1. EMPLOYMENT AND INCOME OF NEGRO WORKERS: 1940–52
By Mary S. Bedell
Negro workers, in terms of employment and income, were less well off than white workers in 1952, although the comparison was more favorable than in 1940. The improvement was due almost entirely to the fact that Negroes, in shifting to nonagricultural industries, were able to get better jobs and were, therefore, less heavily concentrated in the traditionally unskilled and low-wage occupations. The relatively greater gains of Negroes during this period of unprecedented levels of economic activity suggest their particular sensitivity to economic developments.
Factors in the Changing Employment Picture
The narrowing of the differentials in the employment status of Negro and white workers reflects the combined effect of broad economic and social forces. Many authorities have expressed the view that the high level of economic activity prevalent during virtually all years from 1940 to 1952 was the more directly responsible for the recorded improvements in the Negro’s employment position. Support for this position is found in the fact that employment rates increased twice as much for Negroes as for whites from 1950 to 1951, when total employment expanded by about 1 million. Conversely, there is some evidence that reconversion affected Negroes more severely than white workers; from July 1945 to April 1946, for example, unemployment rates among nonwhites increased more than twice as much as among whites. And when the unemployment rate reached a postwar peak early in 1950, the proportion of Negroes employed in nonagricultural industries, particularly in manufacturing, decreased markedly.
However, changes in the employment status of Negroes have been attributed partly, by some observers, to the effects of such other forces as growing governmental concern with the question of racial and group discrimination. The Federal Government, early during the World War II period, initiated executive action to promote fair employment practices; the Committee on Fair Employment Practice continued in operation until July 1945, when the Congress discontinued its appropriation. Subsequent Executive Orders prohibited discrimination in the Federal Civil Service and the Armed Services. Since 1943, Federal contracts and subcontracts have contained fair employment clauses; and in 1951, President Truman established a Committee on Government Contract Compliance to find ways of strengthening compliance with those provisions. All of these measures have diminished discrimination in Federal employment (both direct and indirect).181
In addition, 11 States and 25 municipalities had adopted some form of fair employment practice legislation between 1945 and mid-1952. On the latter date, it was estimated that “enforceable FEP laws [were] in operation in areas that include about a third of the Nation’s total population . . . and about an eighth of the nonwhites.” Administrators of these laws have reported the opening of many job opportunities to workers formerly barred by reason of their race, color, religion, or national origin. Some have expressed concern, however, that the fairly small number of complaints alleging discrimination does not fully measure the extent of noncompliance, although their experience has been that the mere existence of enforcement powers is a potent factor in promoting merit employment. In fact, no comprehensive measure of the effect of such legislation is available, and some interpretations of existing data recognize that favorable economic conditions may have influenced the operation of these laws. One reporter commented: “That these laws appear to have worked satisfactorily under existing conditions does not give assurance that they would continue to do so in a period of widespread unemployment . . . [for] the tendency to discriminate on the basis of race, color, or religion is obviously rather slight [in a tight labor market] as compared with the temptation to do so under adverse economic conditions.”
Quite apart from legal sanctions, the administrators of fair employment laws have relied heavily upon educational efforts to build up public sentiment, and particularly to influence the attitudes of both employers and workers. A recent report indicated that “Many [employers] have . . . expressed their belief that such legislation has not prevented them from hiring the most competent employees available and has had positive beneficial effect.” Some evidence of workers’ attitudes on this subject was revealed in a survey conducted by Factory magazine in 1949 to find out, among other things, how factory workers felt about Federal fair employment legislation then pending in Congress. About two-thirds of the workers favored the legislation: the percent of those who approved ranged from 48 in the South to 85 in New England. Slightly more than a fourth disapproved, and the remainder expressed no opinion.
Paralleling governmental action, many private groups, both national and local, have become increasingly interested in ameliorating or checking discrimination. Some leaders of organized labor, particularly in recent years, have been outstanding in such activities; both the American Federation of Labor and the Congress of Industrial Organizations, are active proponents of Federal fair employment practices legislation, and several national and international unions have special programs designed to eliminate discrimination in employment. Recognizing this, the President’s Committee on Government Contract Compliance commented, however, that “At local levels, union discrimination against Negroes and other minorities persists. The Committee has witnessed examples of union discrimination which have hindered employers from complying with the nondiscrimination clause in their Government contracts.”
Employment and Unemployment
Relatively fewer Negroes than whites who wanted to work could find jobs in 1952, although, percentagewise, more Negroes were actually in the labor force. This was also true in 1940. During this 12-year period, of course, total employment and the size of the labor force expanded sharply for both groups, with marked declines in unemployment rates.
To get an overall perspective of the separate figures, it is useful to note that in 1950 about 16 million Negroes represented 10.5 per cent of the total population. Birth rates have been consistently higher for Negroes than for whites, but so have mortality rates, and the age structures of the two populations are quite different. In consequence, Negroes 14 years old and over comprised only 9.8 per cent of the population of working age.
The civilian labor force in 1952 totaled nearly 63 million and included 56.9 per cent of the white and 62.2 per cent of the Negro population of working age. Virtually all of the difference was due to the fact that 44.2 per cent of the Negro women, compared to 32.7 per cent of the white women, were working or seeking work. In 1951, only in the age group from 18 to 24 years was the proportion of Negro women in the labor force below that for whites. The rates for men were practically identical, although in 1951 a significantly higher proportion of Negro men under age 20 and over age 65 were in the labor force. In 1940, the civilian labor force was 55.6 million; no participation rates comparable with those for 1952 are available. There is, however, evidence that the differential between Negro and white rates narrowed over this 12-year period, due almost entirely to a relatively greater increase in the proportion of white than of Negro women in the labor force.
About 1 in 4 white women was in the labor force in 1940; the ratio was approximately 1 in 3 in 1952. Married women were responsible for most of this increase, the proportion of white married couples with the wife in the labor force having grown from about 11 per cent in 1940 to more than 22 per cent in 1950. Among Negro couples, the comparable figures were 24 and 37 per cent—considerably above those for white couples on both dates, although the relative difference was less at the end of the 10-year period.
Unemployment rates also are consistently higher for Negroes than for whites. From 1940 to 1952, unemployment decreased from 8.1 million to 1.7 million—from about 14.5 per cent to 2.7 per cent of the Negroes and 2.4 per cent of the whites in the labor force were unemployed—the lowest rates for both groups recorded in any year since the end of the war. Further, a comparison of 1950 unemployment rates for Negro and white men in different age groups reveals that the most significant difference is within the age group 25 to 34—the workers most sought by employers. The overall unemployment rate was then 5 per cent; among men in this age group, the rates were 10.5 per cent for Negroes and 3.8 per cent for whites.
Total employment rose from 47.5 million in 1940 to 61.3 million in 1952. In April of the latter year, 9.6 per cent of all persons with jobs were Negroes. This was slightly less than the 1940 ratio because, as relatively more white women entered the labor force, the proportion of employed women who were Negroes decreased. The proportion of Negroes in the number of employed men was practically unchanged.
Industrial and Occupational Distribution
In terms of the types of employers for whom they worked and the kinds of jobs they had, the differences between Negroes and whites narrowed somewhat more between 1940 and 1952 than did differences in the overall employment ratios. The most striking change in both the industrial and occupational composition of employment was a much more pronounced shift away from agriculture for Negroes than for whites. The geographical distribution of Negro employment also changed, because 90 per cent of all Negro agricultural workers in 1940 were in the South. Many of them moved to urban areas—in the North and West, as well as in the South. As a result, during the 1940’s the proportion of all employed Negroes working in the South fell from three-fourths to two-thirds and the Negro population became predominantly urban, for the first time.
Agriculture, in 1950, still represented about a fifth of all Negro workers, and the service industries continued to provide jobs for about a third. While these two industry groups remained the largest sources of Negro employment, they were considerably less important in the total than in 1940, when more than two-thirds of all employed Negroes worked in one or the other. In contrast, less than a third of all white workers were so employed in 1950, as shown in table 1.
Negroes made many gains in nonagricultural employment during World War II, when new opportunities for industrial employment were opened to them. In general, their wartime position has been retained in the postwar years, and, in fact, even larger proportions of employed Negroes were working in nonagricultural industries in 1952 than in 1950. These recent increases more than offset the interruption of the trend away from agriculture which occurred in 1949 and 1950 when unemployment rates reached postwar peaks.
Negroes made notable employment gains in manufacturing, construction, and trade from 1940 to 1952, and the proportion employed in the domestic and personal services segment of the service industries declined in spite of a slight postwar upswing which culminated in 1950. An even larger proportion of Negro men worked in the first two industries in 1952 than in 1950; the proportion of Negro women in manufacturing, on the other hand, had declined slightly, but this decrease was more than offset by a somewhat higher proportion employed in trade. The percentage of Negro women working in professional services increased sharply after 1950, accentuating a steady growth since 1940. By 1952, this industry group accounted for nearly 14 per cent of all employed Negro women; work in domestic and personal services, however, still comprised more than half the total.
With the shifts in the industrial distribution of Negro employment came changes in their occupational patterns, particularly in farm and manufacturing jobs. The proportion of Negroes working in all nonagricultural occupations except domestic service increased, with a marked rise in the semi-skilled “operatives” classification. In spite of substantial reductions in the percentage of Negro workers who were either laborers or service workers, in 1950 these occupations were still the most important for Negro men and women, respectively. They accounted for more than half of all employed Negro workers; in contrast, less than one-fifth of white workers were so employed. . . .
Negro men, by 1952, had made additional gains as operatives, and in April of that year accounted for nearly 10 per cent of all men employed as operatives, although fewer than 9 per cent of all employed men were Negroes. They continued to hold about the same small share of professional, clerical and craftsman jobs as in 1950. In these three occupational groups, the proportion of Negroes in total employment increased relatively more between 1940 and 1952 for women than for men. However, in the latter year, the proportion of women employed in such jobs who were Negroes was very small in comparison with the 11.4 per cent of all women workers who were Negroes. In even more striking contrast with this overall ratio, more than half of all women employed in private households were Negroes.
Another important aspect of the Negro’s employment pattern was the heavy concentration in occupations characterized by lower job stability and by casual and part-time work which interrupts job tenure. A Census survey in early 1951 showed that whites had consistently longer tenure on their current jobs than did Negroes—the median number of years being 3.5 compared to 2.4. The difference was least for nonfarm workers—about 8 months for men and 7 months for women—but it prevailed for both men and women and for farm and non-farm residents. Significantly, the percentage of white workers who had started on their jobs before 1940 was 18.3; for Negro workers, it was only 10.7
Lower levels of education and vocational training of Negroes in comparison with whites have been cited frequently as an important underlying factor for their occupational employment pattern. In 1950, Negroes aged 25 and over (comprising about four-fifths of the Negro labor force) had completed only 7 years of school, almost 3 years less than the average for white persons. Although the educational differences narrowed between 1940 and 1950, the 9 per cent of Negroes of high school and college age who were in school was still below the comparable figure of 14 per cent for white young people. In addition, recommendations of the President’s Committee on Government Contract Compliance pointed up the existence of discrimination against minority groups in some vocational apprenticeship, and on-the-job training programs. Furthermore, recent court decisions held that the facilities provided for Negro students were inferior in the southern localities involved in the test cases. Throughout the South, the public schools are segregated on the basis of race, under the prevailing “separate but equal” doctrine.
The cumulative effect of all these differences in the number and type of job opportunities for Negro and white workers was evidenced by the particularly sharp contrast in their average income. In 1950, Negroes’ income averaged but little more than half that of whites, although their position was relatively better than prewar. Not only did the Negro have less purchasing power than the average white worker, but he faced a less secure old age and his dependents were not so well provided for in the event of his death.
The median income of Negro wage earners and salaried workers was $1,295 in 1950—48 per cent less than for comparable white workers. (The overall ratio showed the combined effect of a much less favorable comparison for women than for men and the considerably larger proportion of Negro than of white earners who were women). The difference was smaller than in 1939, largely because of a greater relative increase in the earnings of Negro men. Family income told about the same story, although a substantially higher proportion of Negro families had more than one earner. In 1950, the median annual income of Negro families was $1,869—54 per cent of the $3,445 average for white families and more than 80 per cent of the Negro families had smaller incomes than the median for white families. Concealed within these figures is a major incentive for Negroes to shift to nonagricultural employment during the 1940’s; the Negro who left the farm in 1950 could improve his money income relatively more than could the white farm worker. Average family income derived chiefly from farm wages was 37.7 per cent of that from nonfarm wages or salaries for Negroes, compared with 47.5 per cent for whites.
Lower income also will affect the amount of benefits for which a worker is eligible under the Old Age and Survivors Insurance program. For the great bulk of Negroes working in agriculture and domestic service, the benefits they can look forward to are also seriously affected by the recentness of their coverage under the OASI program (although all eligible workers are guaranteed minimum retirement benefits of $25 a month). Such workers have been able to accumulate OASI credits only since 1950, and then only if they met the minimum tests of earnings and days worked. These standards are particularly important for Negroes in view of the casual and part-time nature of much of their employment. . . .
* Less than 0.1 per cent.
† Figures do not necessarily add to totals because of rounding.
Source: U.S. Bureau of the Census
It should be pointed out that white workers with low incomes are also insecure, and of course their number is much larger, although smaller in proportion to total white employment; however, many Negroes face a less secure old age than do white workers in the same income classes. Both groups find it difficult to finance private insurance, but only 7 States prohibit discrimination on grounds of color in life insurance premium rates and benefits; higher premiums for Negroes than for whites are common. In the South, however, Negro insurance companies service Negro clients on a nondiscriminatory basis.
In addition, the shorter length of a Negro man’s working life has significant effects upon the security of his dependents. In 1940, the median age of separation from the labor force was 57.7 years for Negro and 63.6 years for white men, principally as a result of higher death rates for Negroes at all working ages. Particularly significant for urban workers were the higher incidence of disability and a much greater concentration of Negroes in jobs in which age and physical disability were likely to be greater handicaps to continued employment. Negro men working on farms retired later in life than white farm workers, with the result that the average retirement age for all Negro men was about 8 months above that for white men.
Monthly Labor Review, 76 (June, 1953): 596–601.
Negro workers who have contributed mightily to the cause of victory for the United Nations want to be assured that the jobs they filled during the war will not be ruthlessly snatched away from them with peace. At the CIO Political Action Conference, the issue was discussed by Sidney Hillman, chairman of the Political Action Committee and president of the Amalgamated Clothing Workers, and by Pres. Willard Townsend of the CIO Transport Service Workers, and Ferdinand C. Smith, secretary of the NMU.
By Willard Townsend
“Basically, the racial problem is a worker’s problem. For as long as the Negro workers’ rights are insecure, all workers’ rights are in jeopardy.
This summer more than a million Negroes were in war plants. The vast majority entered war work during the latter half of 1942, and the first quarter of 1943. Unemployment among Negroes has reached a new low, and occupational progress has moved steadily forward.
Full employment for the Negro in war time, in certain selected war industries, means that the total number employed is 5% for Agricultural Machinery; 5% in Aircraft; 12% in Steel; 25% in Iron and Steel Foundries; 4% in Communications; 2% in Electrical equipment; 10% in Smelting and Refining of Nonferrous metals; 10% in shipbuilding.
The Negro worker is definitely worried. He is worried about today, he is worried about tomorrow. He is restless. He remembers only too well the broken promises.
The big question—what of the Negro worker after the war—is causing as much concern among Negro workers as any other segment of our population. Will peace destroy the gains toward full employment for the Negro? What will be his status at the end of hostilities? A depressed economy has always meant but one thing for the Negro worker—widespread unemployment.
If we have an economy of full employment, it will establish a framework favorable to the continuing occupational advancement of the black worker; and to the removal of the white worker’s fear of him as an economic rival.
By Ferdinand C. Smith
It must continue that leadership on the vital economic front. Even in wartime, despite the manpower shortage, we know that jobs have not been made fully available to Negro workers. The prospect, therefore, of full employment for Negroes in the post-war period becomes a serious problem which must be considered in the planning stage.
What the Negro people want is what every decent American wants—full citizenship in a democracy.
If every trade union opened its doors to Negroes and removed the stigma of second class membership and its attendant inequalities, you can be sure the time would not be far off when the second class citizenship of Negroes in our democracy would be wiped out, the polltax Congressmen notwithstanding.
We in the National Maritime Union have deep pride in the knowledge that full and equal opportunities of employment are offered to our Negro brothers through our rotary hiring halls in every section of the country. The men who Keep ‘Em Sailing and Deliver the Goods know that torpedoes and bombs don’t discriminate.
They know that the color of a man’s skin doesn’t affect his ability to fight fascism nor make him a less patriotic American. That’s a Hitler concept which has no place in American democracy.
This policy of equality on the job which the members of my union have upheld since its inception has been a vital factor in the effective manning of the bridge of ships to every battlefront. You can picture for yourself the tragic situation the nation and its Allies would be facing if the delivery of war supplies were held up because of race conflicts aboard our ships.
By Sidney Hillman
The CIO Political Action Committee has as a primary objective the organizing of labor’s vote. The Negro working man and woman are important and necessary parts of this group. No drive of this nature, therefore, could be undertaken without an awareness of this fact and a determination to make it count.
If re-emphasis be necessary, we state now that a genuine effort will be made to win the support of the Negro trade unionist and the trade unionists of all minority groups, for it is with labor that minorities have their biggest stake. To this end we shall place our arguments with the Negro people in the South as well as in the North, and with equal vigor.
The Committee knows that in readily identifiable sections of our country, unfortunately, there are still certain hazards and obstacles between the desire to vote and the ability to vote. We know, for example, that the polltax prevents 10 million Negroes and whites from voting. We know that registration is not always freely permitted to many of those who pay their tax.
Today we are engaged in a total war. Nothing less than total organization for victory can secure us of a successful conclusion. Labor sees its task and intends to meet it. Negro people are sharing the burden and must share the victory. To this the CIO Political Action Committee is squarely committed.
CIO News, January 24, 1944.
By William Green, President, AFL
As the battles on the German front and the fighting in the Pacific area are reaching the height of intensity, so the full force of the purpose behind every attack and every landing is reaching deeper in the hearts of all Americans. The American soldiers at the fronts did not retreat before the massed attack of the mechanized Nazi divisions. Americans everywhere will not retreat from their objective of liberation of those oppressed and enslaved by the dictates of the fascist terror. This goal of freedom which is the foremost issue in mankind’s most decisive struggle of modern times cannot be set apart from our own major peacetime goal—freedom of opportunity for everyone willing and able to work here at home.
Freedom of opportunity in employment without discrimination because of color, race or creed is a goal which cannot be reached by any one magic formula There is much work to be done by all of us, including labor, management and the government, to speed its attainment. In this task, demobilization when the war ends is bound to raise many challenging problems. This is especially true in the fulfillment of the objective of assuring full employment opportunities to Negro workers. In many sections of our community prejudice, intolerance and outright discrimination still prevail. The coming new shifts of employment are bound to result in new strains and stresses of large-scale readjustment.
Positive measures must be taken without delay to relieve these inevitable strains. First comes the educational work that must be done. It is the most important because education strikes at the roots of prejudice. Every American should know the facts, the dramatic and unassailable facts, of the Negro’s contribution to the winning of this war—in the battle and here at home. How many know that Negroes, who comprise 9.8 per cent of our population, have given the nation over 16 per cent of Army volunteers in the very first two years of defense mobilization? How widely known are the factual reports of valor and heroism beyond the call of duty shown by Negro servicemen in all branches of the service? How much has been told of the Negro workers’ record in war jobs in exacting and highly skilled tasks in which their performance to further the war effort has been a match for anyone? These facts now buried and obscure should be widely disseminated—not as unique exceptions which they are not, but as a record of natural, matter-of-course accomplishment which they are.
Second, we should provide the widest opportunity for vocational training to equip the demobilized Negro soldiers and war workers for remunerative employment. To be most effective such training must be given on real jobs. The motivating power to accomplish this objective, to make work training accessible to the Negro, must therefore come from both management and labor in the various industries and in all communities.
Third, we must assure the Negro access to the job. Non-discrimination in hiring and in job tenure is the final test of equality of employment opportunity for the Negro worker and veteran. In the past, the largest single source of pressure behind discrimination has been the disparity in the standards of wages paid Negro workers. In many sections of the country, wage differentials have been racial differentials. A firm policy designed to eliminate such wage differentials will do much to stamp out job discrimination.
No less important is the need for affirmative action on the part of labor, management and the government to safeguard the Negro worker’s rightful claim to equality in hire and job tenure. The doors to union membership for mutual aid and protection to them and to all workers must be opened to all qualified Negro wage earners willing and able to work. A corresponding responsibility rests upon management not to discriminate in the recruitment of workers or in the maintenance of the standards of wages and employment conditions. Employers must not yield to the temptation, which in the past competition has made strong to use the Negro worker as a tool for lowering wages and work standards of all workers. In the end such policies would spell disaster, not only to Negro labor, but all labor and to our entire economy.
Finally, there is the responsibility of the government to help effectuate a non-discrimination policy. The employment services of the government should adhere to this policy in all procedures of referral and placement. Where discrimination does occur, a permanent Fair Employment Practice Commission should provide the means for hearing and adjustment of all complaints.
Only through such a three-sided but unified effort, with complete teamwork on the part of labor, management and the government and with the full backing of the entire community, can we meet the challenge of orderly readjustment from war to peace without disruption to our economy and to the national unity. Only through such a forward looking program, in which there is widest participation of representative citizens in every community, can we achieve full freedom of equal opportunity in the future peacetime years.
Opportunity, 23 (April-June, 1945): 80–81.
By Philip Murray, President, CIO
We have all been working to produce weapons to win the war. With the winning of the war our task is to have all working to produce the products of peace.
An army of people not working and without income, plus a working force with greatly reduced income, means depression. When the working people do not have wages to spend, there is tremendous loss to the butcher, the baker, the landlord and the farmer, who consequently have their purchasing power reduced.
Competition for jobs which are scarce brings new tensions. Race riots would follow; worker will be competing against worker for jobs; groups competing against groups; veteran competing against civilian; black worker competing against white worker, in order to earn the wherewithal to live.
The CIO is deeply interested in the security and prosperity of every section of the nation. We want real prosperity for the farmers. We are concerned with the problems of independent businessmen and professional people. We are vitally interested in the welfare of returning veterans. We champion the cause of all racial and national minorities.
Every veteran of both this and the earlier war must have his job opportunity in a national program of full production and full employment. The same is true of the large group of women who through necessity or choice will be in the labor market when the war is over. Women must not only have democratic employment opportunities; they must receive equal pay for equal work.
The Negro worker has given his efforts to production for Victory; he must be given the opportunity to produce for peace. His employment opportunities must not be tampered with because of his color. An economy to which all can contribute their best efforts and from which all can obtain an adequate living, must be the goal towards which we must strive.
We believe the following eight-point program is absolutely necessary to insure a high volume of purchasing power to maintain full employment:
1. Strong unions and high wages.
2. Teamwork for full production and full employment.
a. A National Production Council should be set up, linked with the War Production Board and other war agencies, which will be responsible for taking the country through reconversion and keeping it prosperous. It should be composed of representatives of labor, industry, agriculture and government.
b. Industry Councils should be established in the great basic and mass production industries, composed of representatives of labor, management and government.
c. The National Council and the Industry Councils should work out an over-all national program and component industry programs for changing over to peacetime production and operating at capacity thereafter.
3. Construction of a modern transportation system which should include a highly developed airway system, railway and highway.
4. Housing and city reconstruction.
5. An expanded program of regional developments.
6. Increased foreign trade.
7. An expanded health and education program.
8. An expanded adequate social security program.
It is only by achieving full employment that we can hope to establish the climate that will enable us to continue to improve the economic, social and political status of the Negro. To this end, the CIO Committee to Abolish Racial Discrimination was created, with James B. Carey, Chairman, Willard S. Townsend, Secretary, and George L-P Weaver, Director. This committee has greatly strengthened our efforts to achieve human dignity and freedom.
The CIO believes that by advocating and working toward the attainment of these objecttives, it is working towards a better America, towards a better world.
Opportunity, (April-June, 1945): 81.
By Major General Philip B. Fleming
In this war, as during the first World War, the Negro has made large economic gains. Traditionally an agricultural laborer or domestic servant, total war has made it possible for him to acquire and utilize higher skills both for the welfare of his country and for the enhancement of his own position.
Even in Government service doors are opening to the Negro that formerly were closed to him. For example, a recent tabulation showed 8,602 Negroes on the payroll of the Federal Works Agency, or 43 per cent of total employment. While a majority of these workers scrub floors of the Government’s buildings, wash the windows, operate the elevators, run errands as messengers and fire the boilers, the amount of upgrading brought about by the war is significant. Of some 2,700 guards protecting Government buildings, 900 are Negroes. Five guard sergeants are supervising both white and colored men. Two hundred Negro girls are working in FWA clerical and stenographic positions and twenty Negro men and women are in administrative or professional positions as engineers, supervisors, and technicians.
I have promulgated regulations prohibiting discrimination in employment on racial or religious grounds on all construction carried out by the Federal Works Agency under the community facilities provisions of the Lanham Act. Contractors are required to employ skilled Negro labor in the proportion that the number of available skilled craftsmen of that race bears to the total number of skilled building workers in the community in which each project is built. A recent check showed that of a total wage bill of $40,993,806 on Lanham Act construction projects, more than 20 per cent had been paid to Negro workers and $1,210,417, or 4.7 per cent, to skilled Negro craftsmen.
Data for other agencies, as reported recently by the Fair Employment Practice Committee, are comparable. For example, of 37,012 civilian employees of the War Department, 8,179 were Negroes; of 4,698 employed by the Office of Price Administration, 345 were Negroes; of 1,788 at the War Manpower Commission 231 were Negroes. These are “departmental” positions as distinguished from the field service. An analysis of the employment records of the war agencies showed that 12,849 positions were held by Negroes, or 17.9 per cent of all positions. Forty-five of these positions held by Negroes were classified as professional, 31 as sub-professional, and 2,987 as “clerical, administrative or fiscal.”
These figures furnish some clue to the wartime advances made by Negroes throughout the whole economy.
The Negro’s hold upon the economic gains of 1917-18 became increasingly tenuous during the 1920’s and was almost completely snapped in the depression of the ‘30’s. The status of the Negro in the next postwar period also will depend upon what happens to American economy as a whole.
If the war is to be followed by another depression, the old rule that the Negro is last hired and first fired will again come into operation. His social stature, as well as his economic gains, will be in jeopardy if there are not enough jobs to go around. It is characteristic of any people in times of economic stress to nominate scapegoats, and thus race is aligned against race, creed against creed, and color against color. Periods of severe business depression sow seeds of fascism as well as hunger.
It must be the policy of Government hereafter to see that every man able and willing to work shall have employment at the highest level of his talent and ability. I believe that policy can be expressed, in part, through a program for the construction of needed public works, made ready and held in reserve for use at the first warning of contraction of business and employment.
White and black, Jew and Gentile, Catholic and Protestant, native sons and foreign born—we are all in the same economic boat. What injures any one of us will, in the long run, injure all of us; whatever improves the status of one helps in some degree to improve the status of all.
Opportunity, 23 (April, June, 1945): 82.
By Jacob S. Potofsky182
Excerpts from a speech delivered before the New York Chapter of the Southern Conference for Human Welfare on September 23.
With pardonable pride I refer first to the Amalgamated Clothing Workers of America and how we have met the problem of minorities. I think then certain object lessons can be drawn that may have direct application to other unions, nonunion workers and the question of federal legislation to prevent discrimination in industry.
The Amalgamated, by itself, is a sort of League of Nations. Our 325,000 members, living and working in 32 states of the Union and three Canadian provinces, are made up of minorities. There is no racial or national lineage which dominates or can dominate this union, nor discriminate against any other group. This holds true as to the right to a job, skilled opportunities, a voice in union affairs, running for and holding office.
The members of the Amalgamated are Americans all—of Italian, Jewish, Negro, Polish, Bohemian, Czech, Russian, French, Anglo-Saxon and every other conceivable extraction. We have Chinese members in our union.
The disabled pharmacist’s mate, Edward Bykowski, an American of Polish extraction, who picketed Senator Bilbo’s office and home in Washington for sixteen days at his own expense in protest against Bilbo’s vile assaults upon Americans of minority stock, is a member of the Amalgamated Clothing Workers of America. We are proud of Ed Bykowski.
The Amalgamated Clothing Workers of America operates in the North, South, East and West. We have thousands of Negro members in New York; we have Negro members in Southern cities. Wherever Negroes are employed in industries in which we have jurisdiction, they are admitted on the same basis as everyone else.
It would be offensive to the spirit of our great membership to discriminate against any single member of our union because of race, color, creed or sex. Our members receive the same pay for the same type of operations, regardless of the color of their skin or where they are born or where their parents were born. They are protected in their jobs by our union constitution, our by-laws, our conventions and our contractual agreements with our employers.
We operate in 32 States of the Union and not in 48. But we have laid down a pattern for other enlightened unions to follow, whether they are large or small, whether they operate in all 48 states or not, whether they are in interstate commerce or not.
Undoubtedly, there is the greatest moral and economic obligation upon labor unions not to discriminate against any worker . . . if he wishes to share the obligations, as well as the benefits, of membership in the union.
But, because there are large sections of American labor still unorganized, because they have no enlightened unions to speak for them and to protect their economic interests, federal legislation against discrimination is an elementary must proposition.
Obviously, the Federal government must protect those who have no protection through their unions. This involves not only the right to work, but the right, also, to work at decent standards, comparable with the best that have been obtained through our years of struggle up from economic, and, in the case of the Negro, from chattel slavery as well. The right to work is meaningless if it means only at inferior and menial tasks, inadequately paid, with little or no hope of promotion to higher skills with commensurate improvements in economic standards.
Those who urge 48 different Fair Employment Practice statutes, instead of federal legislation, are asking for a hollow sham. They know it won’t work. It will pit state against state. There will be large migrations of Negro and other minority groups from state to state in an effort to beat discrimination, only to find that the jobs are not there.
Whether it has been the question of a minimum wage, or recognition of the principle of collective bargaining or any other matter vital to American labor, we have argued that only federal statute, rather than state legislation, must be the controlling factor. Otherwise, you get cutthroat competition with state pitted against state, worker against worker. You get migration of plants to so-called cheap labor centers and you encourage a spiral downward which results in the debasement of labor and living standards.
Full employment means work for all Americans—union workers, as well as non-union workers, displaced war workers, returning veterans, black and white—all able and willing to work. It means work without discrimination.
We support fully the proposal for a permanent federal Fair Employment Practice Commission.
Opportunity, 23 (October-December, 1945): 209.
Sleeping Car Porters
Resolution No. 158—By Delegate F. N. Aten, Railway Employees’ Department.
WHEREAS, All organizations affiliated with the American Federation of Labor are required to respect the jurisdictional rights of other affiliates, but the Sleeping Car Porters are, notwithstanding the regulations, raiding the jurisdiction of the shop craft organizations, composing the Railway Employees’ Department, therefore, be it
RESOLVED, That as all efforts to adjust this dispute by President Green, meeting with President Randolph, President Knight of the Railway Carmen representing the shop craft organizations meeting with President Randolph and the Sleeping Car Porters being summoned to appear before the Executive Council of the American Federation of Labor, August, 1945, and they did appear but nothing was accomplished in any of these efforts, the Pullman porters stating their position quite clearly that they intended to go through with efforts to organize mechanics, helpers, apprentices, coach cleaners, and laborers of the shop craft organizations, and be it further
RESOLVED, That the Sleeping Car Porters be suspended unless they immediately cease and desist from their raiding of the jurisdiction of the shop craft organizations and notify the Pullman Yard and Terminal employees of their withdrawal from the Pullman campaign.
Your committee deplores the fact that the Sleeping Car Porters are going far beyond their charter rights which are as follows: “Porters, attendants, maids and bus boys” in their attempt to organize mechanics, helpers, apprentices, coach cleaners, laborers and storeroom employees, all of whom have for years been recognized as coming within the jurisdiction of the shop crafts organizations composing the Railway Employees’ Department, A.F. of L., and the Brotherhood of Railway Clerks, and condemns the Sleeping Car Porters for their failure or refusal to heed President Green’s request as contained in his letter to President Randolph under date of July 13, 1945, reading as follows: “Certainly the Brotherhood of Sleeping Porters’ organization, of which you are president, cannot claim jurisdiction over boilermakers, blacksmiths, carmen, machinists or any other mechanics employed by the Pullman Company. For this reason, I must, in a most friendly but emphatic way, call upon you to immediately cease and desist from attempting to organize workers such as are referred to in this correspondence or other employees of the Pullman Company who do not come under the jurisdiction of your Sleeping Car Porters organization.”
Therefore, the committee recommends that Resolution 158 be referred to the Executive Council of the American Federation of Labor, with authority to suspend the Sleeping Car Porters at the January, 1947, Council meeting unless the Sleeping Car Porters notify the Council before that meeting that they (the Sleeping Car Porters) have discontinued their efforts to organize Pullman employees coming under the jurisdiction of other A.F. of L. affiliates and will hereafter confine their efforts to the organizing and servicing of porters, attendants, maids and bus boys.
The motion was seconded.
DELEGATE RANDOLPH, Brotherhood of Sleeping Car Porters: Mr. Chairman and fellow delegates of the convention: I want to give you a little background of this controversy. The Brotherhood of Sleeping Car Porters is organizing the car cleaners, the non-clerical storeroom workers, the upholsterers’ apprentices and helpers, the painters’ apprentices and helpers, the mechanics’ apprentices and helpers in the Pullman yards. We have never been concerned about the organization of mechanics or any group of workers in the shops.
Now, the car cleaners, the non-clerical storeroom workers, the mechanics’ helpers and apprentices, painters’ helpers and apprentices, upholsterers’ helpers and apprentices have constituted one bargaining unit in the Pullman yards. The existing agreement between the Pullman Company and the Independent Federation of Pullman Workers covers the classes of employees I have aforementioned.
Now, the Brotherhood of Sleeping Car Porters is concerned about the organization of the car cleaners because they are close to our group of workers. They are related to the porters. In other words, sometimes porters are transferred to the yards to serve as car cleaners. Then car cleaners are transferred to the cars to serve as porters. This fact is recognized in the agreement between the Pullman Company and the Independent Federation of Pullman Workers.
Now, the Independent Federation of Pullman Workers is a company union. Not until the Brotherhood of Sleeping Car Porters started into organizing this group of workers did the Brotherhood of Railway Carmen show up on the scene. As a matter of fact, the car cleaners sought the Brotherhood of Railway Carmen some 20 years or more ago, calling upon them to organize them, to permit them to come into the union. Officials of the Brotherhood of Sleeping Car Porters requested the Brotherhood of Railway Carmen officials to do something about the organization of this group of workers. Nothing was done. We recognized that were the porters to be involved in a crisis and the car cleaners were under the control of a different organization we would have great difficulty in maintaining our position because of the close relationship of these two groups of workers.
Now, the Brotherhood of Railway Carmen came in after we had started the campaign and claimed that we were raiding their jurisdiction. We are not raiding their jurisdiction. They don’t have any car cleaners—not in the yards. Nobody has the car cleaners except the company union. The various organizations are trying to get hold of the car cleaners.
At this very moment there is a mediator in Chicago sent here by the National Mediation Board for the purpose of planning an election to determine the bargaining agent of these groups of workers. We are perfectly willing to abide by the results of the election, but we don’t think it is fair for the Brotherhood of Railway Carmen to come into the American Federation of Labor and into the convention and seek to get the support and cooperation of the convention in winning the election.
Now, if the convention goes on record for suspending the Brotherhood of Sleeping Car Porters, it is ipso facto helping the Brotherhood of Railway Carmen to win the election, because the Brotherhood of Railway Carmen will go out and tell the car cleaners and other workers, “See, they were kicked out and they were kicked out because the convention recognized that they had no right to organize the car cleaners and related workers.”
We consider this a rather low form of trade union organization morality. We think it is unethical, definitely unfair. Now, if the Brotherhood of Railway Carmen think that they can get the car cleaners to come along with them, go out and get them. You are perfectly welcome to them if you can organize them, but they didn’t do anything about organizing them for over 25 years, or some 20 years ago. Now, they want to come along, want to get the benefit of the educational program the Brotherhood of Sleeping Car Porters has conducted among these workers. We have about made these workers trade union conscious now. They are ready to give a bona fide trade union organization serious consideration. I am not saying that we will win the election. I don’t know whether we will or not, but we are perfectly willing to abide by the results and we are willing to wage the campaign on our own merits, and we are not seeking the cooperation of the convention to discredit the Brotherhood of Railway Carmen and the work of President Knight, not at all. We want this matter to rest on its own merits.183
It was my understanding or feeling in the last meeting of the Executive Council that we were going to leave the thing to the determination of an election and may the best man win. I didn’t know that they were going to write a resolution of this sort and bring it to this convention. I had the idea that all of us were going into this election and carry on and wage a campaign upon sound ethical standards and abide by the decisions of the collective will and feeling of the workers in the Pullman car yards. That is our position.
The Brotherhood of Railway Carmen, moreover, only recently, so I have been told, took the color clause out of their constitution. For some years the car cleaners and others in the Pullman yards were excluded from full-fledged membership in the Brotherhood of Railway Carmen. Now, one would believe or have the feeling that workers could make some sudden and miraculous change in judgment to turn around and place their confidence in an organization which is just now taking the color clause out of the constitution in order to win the election, perhaps.
The Brotherhood of Sleeping Car Porters is glad that the Brotherhood of Railway Carmen have taken the color clause out of their constitution. We bid them forward. We congratulate them on that fact. Nevertheless, I have not heard that the Jim Crow locals have been abolished, and as long as there are Jim Crow auxiliary locals the workers in those locals do not have full-fledged economic citizenship. They don’t have the right of voice and vote in determination of the policies that govern the union. They don’t have voice and vote in the election of the representatives that negotiate agreements concerning rules and regulations governing working conditions.
Therefore, in addition to abolishing the color clause in the constitution, I want to hear President Knight say that he also has abolished the auxiliary Jim Crow unions. So, Mr. Chairman and fellow delegates, we consider that the resolution is decidedly unfair, out of order, and, as a matter of fact, ought to be rejected by the convention. We believe that if you are going to refer this resolution to the Executive Council, the Executive Council should not be bound by the mandate to suspend the Brotherhood of Sleeping Car Porters under any conditions.
In the Executive Council’s report this morning the statement was made that the International Machinists’ Union should be called upon to come back into the organization, the American Federation of Labor, and here plead their cause within the framework of this great institution and not remain on the outside of the American Federation of Labor. Why not apply that same policy in the Brotherhood of Sleeping Car Porters? Let us plead our cause here within the framework of the American Federation of Labor. If the cause of the Brotherhood of Railway Carmen is sound, it will bear examination. If it isn’t sound, it won’t bear examination and the Brotherhood of Railway Carmen should not be afraid for the Brotherhood of Sleeping Car Porters to remain in the American Federation of Labor to fight this issue out on its merits. Why attempt to take advantage of one group by putting them out where they will then be denied the privilege of challenging the decisions of this Federation to establish the validity of their position, whereas the other group is here and is able to take advantage of their various designs to make their cause secure?
So, Brother President and fellow delegates, the Brotherhood of Sleeping Car Porters maintains that it is not raiding the membership of the Brotherhood of Railway Carmen, because they haven’t got these workers. They never attempted to get them for years, and second, we hold that these workers are related to the porters, they are closer to the porters, and consequently upon those grounds we believe that our position is sound and that the resolution should be turned down.
DELEGATE ATEN, Railroad Employees’ Department: Mr. Chairman, Brother Randolph made a very interesting speech, but he evaded the vital issues in this question. The Pullman porters have been getting jurisdiction over a certain class of workers. It was made very plain in the reading of the report of the committee that no one was ever extended that jurisdiction because of any class of workers beyond those named in the charters of that organization.
Now, I want to get a few facts before the convention, and I want you to bear with me just a little bit. I will have to go into three or four details of history. One is the Pullman Company, that is, the operating company that operates the sleeping cars, is a common carrier in the same meaning that any railroad is a common carrier. It is subject to the Interstate Commerce Act and subject to the Railway Labor Act. This company is regulated by the regulations of the Interstate Commerce Commission and is regulated as to labor matters by the provisions of the Railway Labor Act.
Mr. Randolph made a statement that we have made no attempt to organize the Pullman employees for a long period of years. Well, it just happens that I was chairman of a committee that negotiated the first agreement that shop men ever had with the Pullman Company in 1921. That agreement remained in effect until the 1922 strike of the shop men, and we lost that agreement. We not only lost the Pullman agreement because the company refused to settle with the men on strike, but we lost the majority of our agreements covering shop men on the other common carriers, the railroads of this country. It was a long road back. Since that time we have recovered the right to represent the shop craft employees on the more than 100 railroads that we lost in the 1922 strike, and the Pullman Company and the Pennsylvania Railroad are the only two large car carriers today on which we do not represent the shop men.
There is one other thing that should be cleared up. That is the Brotherhood of Railroad Carmen of America is not the only organization involved in this matter. The Railway Employees’ Department performs certain services and represents in various ways all of the shop craft organizations in dealing with management, negotiating agreements, representation before the National Mediation Board and in various other ways. These organizations are the International Brotherhood of Blacksmiths, International Brotherhood of Boilermakers, the Brotherhood of Railway Carmen, International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers, Sheet Metal Workers’ International Association and the Firemen and Oilers, at present affiliated with the Railway Employees’ Department.
So, all these organizations, with the exception of the Boilermakers, are interested in this campaign on the Pullman Company. We have had a crew of organizers on that road for over a year. I don’t know when Brother Randolph started his campaign, but it doesn’t seem to matter to me if we, the Railway Employees’ Department organization, undertook to represent employees of any class covered by his charter I am sure that he would say we were trying to invade his jurisdiction, whether the people we were after are present members of his organization or not.
Now, as I said, it has been a long way back since the 1922 strike. We have done this work of recovering our representation and our agreements on these roads as rapidly as conditions would permit. With such an enormous job to do it was, of course, obvious that we would first tackle those roads that seemed easy to get, and that is just what we have done. The Pullman Company has been canvassed several times in this period of years, and not until within the last two years has there appeared any likelihood that the employers would respond to an organizing campaign put on by the organization operating through the Railway Employees’ Department. When that time appeared we put a crew on the system because it is not just like a railroad. It is a nationwide system. There are 200 points, 200 towns and communities where Pullman employees are employed in the yards and towns. There are six heavy repair shops of the Pullman system that do the overhauling for the Pullman cars. The Pullman porters’ organization is not trying to represent or not seeking to represent the employees in the six repair shops where about 40 per cent of the total number of employees are employed. They are seeking to represent all the employees in the yards where 60 per cent of the employees ordinarily represented by these shop craft organizations are employed.
This present representation election now coming on is brought on because of the fact that the Railway Employees’ Department invoked the services of the National Mediation Board to determine who shall represent these crafts employed in the Pullman Company. You men in the American Federation of Labor know what a craft is. I don’t need to give you any definition of that, but that word as applied in the railway industry and the Pullman Company, to all intents and purposes, is a part of the railway industry because it is a common carrier under all the acts of that regulation and has been treated as such all through the history of the organization, and these crafts on railroads are not the boilermakers and helpers’ apprentices, for example, employed in one shop, like the Topeka shop on the Santa Fe Railroad. They are the boilermakers employed on the Santa Fe Railroad from Chicago to San Francisco, the Gulf Coast lines and the coast lines from the western region. In other words, the entire operating carrier under the Railway Labor Act is the unit on which a craft vote is taken. Even the employees in marine shops on the coast are voting along with the mechanics’ helpers and apprentices in the actual railroad shops where cars and locomotives are repaired, so a craft on a railroad means the employees such as electrical workers, their helpers and apprentices, employed in the six heavy repair shops and in the 200 yards and termination points on the Pullman system.
Now, there are two company unions representing employees in the Pullman Company at the present time. One is an organization representing those in the six heavy repair shops only. The other is another company union representing employees in the yards and termination—these 200 points outside the shops. There is a CIO organization undertaking to represent the employees in the six heavy repair shops. There are the Pullman porters undertaking to represent the employees in the 200 yards and terminal points. That makes four different organizations against us in this campaign. The Pullman porters’ president says, “Let the best man win,” with the full knowledge, without a doubt, that if he has any conception of what the Pullman system means as to a mechanics’ helper and apprentices nobody will win this election if they continue in the election. It means there is a vote for five different organizations which will have to be placed on the ballot. We would expect such an experience from a CIO outfit that is trying to organize and represent the men in the repair shops, but we certainly have a right to expect cooperation instead of interference from an American Federation of Labor organization.
Then, suppose that no organization receives a majority of all the votes in any one craft. That simply means that under the procedure of the Railway Labor Act, if a representation election is held and no organization receives a majority of all the votes cast in a craft over the entire system, mind you, shops and outside points, no organization receives a majority of that craft vote, there is no change in representation. In other words, it means a cinch for the company union if no one of the three contesting organizations, the CIO, the Pullman porters, or the Railway Department organization, wins a majority of any one of these crafts. They will still be represented by the company union because there has been no vote for a change in representation.
Now, under the procedure of the Railway Labor Act, as I stated, the Electrical Workers, for example, their helpers and apprentices on the entire operating system, which is the entire Pullman Company, six repair shops, 200 outside plants, are one unit. There was a hearing in Washington before the National Mediation Board some time in July and at that hearing the Pullman porters were represented by a very competent attorney and certain other of their representatives. They contended that they wanted the National Mediation Board to recognize as the bargaining unit only the employees in the yards and termination points and not include those in the six repair shops. They want them not only to recognize that as the bargaining unit, but they want the National Mediation Board to order an election of everybody as one voting unit, with those distinctions as to crafts.
Well, after that hearing the attorneys for the several contesting parties exchanged briefs, filed answers and a decision of the National Mediation Board was made a couple of weeks ago. That decision was that the vote would be taken by crafts on the entire system, including the six heavy repair shops and the 200 yards and terminals, so the carmen have got to win a majority of the votes in the six repair shops and in the yards. The electricians have to do the same—the blacksmiths have to do the same if they are going to win this vote.
Now, I don’t know that I can add much more to that, I just wanted to get these facts before you. There is a considerable difference in the way representation elections are handled under the Railway Labor Act and the way they are handled under the National Labor Relations Act. The National Labor Relations Board can say what will constitute a voting unit. They might vote the employees of the General Motors Company in Buffalo and one in San Francisco as separate, but the National Mediation Board under the Railway Labor Act and the procedures established thereunder cannot split up any common carrier for voting purposes, and they have made numerous decisions sustaining that procedure.
So, I just wanted you to have these facts, and I am sure that President Knight of the carmen has certain documentary evidence that he may want to give to the convention.
DELEGATE WEBSTER, Brotherhood of Sleeping Car Porters: We judge, from the remarks just made by the last speaker, that all we had to do was to get out of this election and it would be a cinch for the American Federation of Labor. Now, the question of the arrangement or the voting for these crafts was an action on the part of the National Mediation Board. When we went into this situation some four or five years ago these-people in the yards were orphans. The Carmen’s Union or the shop craft employees—the shop crafts’ organizations were not giving any attention to these people. Naturally, having an organization of Pullman porters and having the same field to cover, we came in close contact with these people. Many of these people who had been porters were not working in the yards. Many of the men who work in the yards have come on the road as porters. In fact, in the company union agreement specific arrangement is made for the so-called upgrading of people working in the yards to porters operating on the roads.
Then, incidentally, a large percentage of these workers are Negroes, and at the time we started this campaign these Negroes could not come into the Carmen’s Union or any of the shop craft unions that we know of, unless it was the Electrical Workers’ Union. Nothing had been done. As a matter of fact, as an organization we have attempted to operate with the Carmen’s Union to try to get these people organized. I have spoken at meetings held by the officers of the Carmen’s Union 15 or 18 years ago, but all of those efforts were out.
All these people were struggling along under the yoke of a company union. Originally they operated under what was called the plant employee representation. Then after the Railway Act was amended and these interested organizations were inaugurated they started to operate under the auspices of these independent organizations, which was a glorified company union.
Now, what was our position? We represent a large substantial group of people employed by the Pullman Company, and who have we got surrounding us? We have three company unions. There are three company unions—not two. One in the shops, one in the yards and the clerks, all operating under the jurisdiction of company unions. Then along comes the CIO group and, of course, we didn’t have jurisdiction over the laundry workers. We didn’t take any part in the campaign, even though the laundry workers solicited our help. Who do we find represent the laundry workers? The CIO. We have a laundry workers’ organization there, too, but the CIO moved in and they now represent the laundry workers and are moving in to represent these other groups, and until we started in this program not one thing was done by the Carmen’s Union or any of the other organizations to get these people into an organization.
Now, as a matter of fact, it is a question of self protection. If the CIO did encroach and get the laundry workers and then we stood idly by and the others encroach and get those people who are close to us, it is only going to be a short space of time before they make trouble for us. It is amusing as we read this resolution to hear these people talk about raiding their jurisdiction. They have admitted that they have done nothing to organize these people for many years. Before the Committee on Adjustment the speaker who preceded me pointed out that they did have a contract in 1921 and ’22. Now, that is 24 years ago. Twenty-four years is a long time. Yet they have allowed these people to come under the yoke of this company union, and the company union at the present time has a contract covering the wages and working conditions of this particular group of people.
Now, this isn’t a jurisdictional dispute, as we see it, as many jurisdictional disputes we have heard argued in these conventions from time to time, but here are a group of workers that they did not attempt to organize until we got into the picture a little over three years ago. Now, should we stand by and wait until they get ready, wait until they take the color clause out of the constitution and let our own interests be jeopardized? We have no special desire to usurp anybody’s jurisdiction, but we are confronted with a practical, everyday problem. A large number of these people in these yards are Negroes and they were being exploited. They don’t exercise their rights, their seniority rights under this setup. They were being pushed out of jobs without having access to go to the National Railway Adjustment Board, and all of these complaints were brought to us from time to time, so we as an organization are interested primarily in the organization of the Negro workers and we are trying to bring these people under our wing in an effort to bring to them some sort of organization.
There is no certainty of who is going to win the election. There is no certainty that the Carmen are going to win their share of it and there is no certainty that the company unions are going to win their share of it. As a matter of fact, had we known that there was any qualified representative on the part of the Carmen’s Union or any of the groups in the shop yards to go out and organize these people we would have been glad to help them rather than to take on this responsibility. But we know the conditions of these people. Negroes are being driven off of the railroads because organized white organizations are bringing pressure on the railroads to drive these Negroes off. Can we stand by and wait until the Carmen get ready to organize these people to try to put forth some effort to put these people back into an organization?
Now, we are thoroughly convinced that our position is sound. We ran into this thing with our eyes open. We have tried to bring these people into the American Federation of Labor. We believe that we have as much chance, and maybe a little more, to bring these people into the American Federation of Labor than anybody else on the ballot. We do feel that an injustice is being perpetrated upon us by this organization which admits they shamefully neglected these people, coming in here at this late date and who are trying to throw the Brotherhood of Sleeping Car Porters out because they dared to sympathize with a number of their brothers who have long been exploited not only in the railroad industry but in America as a whole.
We plead with you delegates to this convention to turn the report of the committee down.
DELEGATE BURKE, Pulp, Sulphite and Paper Mill Workers: Mr. Chairman, I request that the Secretary of the Committee read in that portion of the committee’s report referring to the suspension of the Brotherhood of Porters. Read that portion of the report again.
PRESIDENT GREEN: We will accommodate you. The Secretary will please read that section of the report.
COMMITTEE SECRETARY McCURDY read the following portion of the committee’s report:
“Therefore, the committee recommends that Resolution 158 be referred to the Executive Council of the American Federation of Labor with authority to suspend the Sleeping Car Porters at the January, 1947, Council meeting unless the Sleeping Car Porters notify the Council before that meeting that they, the Sleeping Car Porters, have discontinued their efforts to organize Pullman employees coming under the jurisdiction of other A.F. of L. affiliates and will hereafter confine their efforts to the organizing and servicing of porters, attendants, maids and bus boys.”
DELEGATE BURKE: Now, Mr. Chairman, I move that the report of the committee be amended by striking out that part referring to the suspension of the Brotherhood of Sleeping Car Porters.
DELEGATE LYNCH, Pattern Makers: As President of the Pattern Makers’ League of North America, I wish to second that motion.
PRESIDENT GREEN: You have heard the motion to amend the committee’s report. The Chair recognizes Chairman Knight of the committee.
COMMITTEE CHAIRMAN KNIGHT: You would think from the discussion that the Brotherhood of Railway Carmen was the only organization involved here. Here is the original resolution that was submitted to the A.F. of L., and it is signed by Fred N. Aten, President of the Railway Employees Department, myself as President of the Railway Carmen, G. M. Bugniazet, of the Electrical Workers; George M. Harrison, Brotherhood of Railway Clerks; Charles MacGowan, of the Boiler Makers.184
Now, he says no Boiler Makers are involved. They have six rebuilding shops and they have a repair plant at every one of those places with boilers in all of them.
It was also signed by Robert Byron of the Sheet Metal Workers, John Pelkofa of the Blacksmiths and President McNamara of the Firemen and Oilers.185
It is difficult for me to touch on these various subjects because they are so far from the facts. As I recall, President Randolph said we hadn’t done anything for 25 years. There is an agreement in evidence that we had with the Pullman Company that covered white, black, red and yellow employees of that company in the shops and yards that we lost in the shop strike in 1922.
It has been said that coach cleaners and Pullman porters are interchangable. Well, that was in existence many, many years ago, even before these shop craft organizations had a signed agreement with the Pullman Company for all of the employees involved in this representation campaign.
We lost that agreement in 1922 in the strike. It has been said here that we haven’t attempted to do anything with these Pullman employees for 25 years. Well, these shop craft organizations have learned from long experience, experience going far beyond the time that the Pullman porters were organized, that when a limb shakes, the tree is not full of squirrels, and when some Pullman employee becomes dissatisfied and goes out and looks for the organization that that doesn’t mean there is any great dissatisfaction among those employees.
We have organized lodges of Pullman employees in the last seven years, notwithstanding the statements to the contrary. We could have organized more of them. We don’t want their money until such time as we are authorized by the National Mediation Board and are given that authority under a Federal law. When they say that we are the bargaining agency then we will organize them and accept their money, and not until then.
Now, the hazard that the Pullman porters might experience with the coach cleaners that they talk about mostly—what did the shop men experience in the 1922 strike when these same mechanics, helpers and apprentices, coach cleaners, laborers and storehouse employees went on strike? I do not think if the coach cleaners and others that were not organized could do the porters any more damage if the porters went on strike than they did to the shop craft organizations in our 1922 strike. However, the Pullman porters were not organized then on the Pullmans. They haven’t anything to do with what did that. Who is closer to the employees in the shop—these mechanics’ helpers and apprentices, coach cleaners and laborers working on the same car, in the yard or in the terminal that the Pullman employee works on, sometimes working side by side on the same car. There was no group that had more to do with the organizing of the Pullman employees than these shop men working in the terminals and yards, because every Pullman employee that is operating the Pullman car rides that car into the yards where these shop men are working and they are in contact with them every day. They all know one another, and there was a great influence exerted upon the Pullman employees by these shop men, coach cleaners and laborers in the organizing of President’s Randolph’s organization.
It has been said here that if the Pullman porters had known that these shop craft organizations or the clerks were interested they wouldn’t have got in the campaign. It would not have been much trouble for them to ascertain if that was a fact. However, they did not go to that trouble. The first time the activities of the Pullman porters came to me was through the Vice President of the Electrical Workers, and I wrote President Randolph on March 24, 1944. I was asked by these shop men to handle it for them, and I did. Perhaps that is the reason that the Carmen are the greatest culprits in this.
The last paragraph of President Randolph’s reply of April 14 reads:
“Of course, the Brotherhood of Sleeping Car Porters is not organizing the Pullman car cleaners. I hope this explanation will be satisfactory, but be assured that it is not my desire to have any conflict of interests with yours or any other organization which I may have anything to do with.
“A. PHILIP RANDOLPH.”
Now, I accepted that as the whole clause, but just before the A.F. of L. Convention in New Orleans in November of 1944 other rumors came to me, and I went over to President Randolph’s table and sat down and talked to him about it. He told me substantially the same thing there, but when the sentiment among the Pullman employees indicated that there was a possibility of these shop craft organizations taking over we started a campaign and then we found out what the Brotherhood of Sleeping Car Porters had done and was doing—they organized numerous locals throughout the country. They called a meeting here in Chicago. I think it was on May 4 and 5, 1944—or somewhere back there and they brought these people in here and adopted resolutions and all of those things. They talk about ethics and so on. I could read those resolutions to them. If there is any ethics in those resolutions and fair dealings with these employees that are being exploited, as has been said here, I don’t know anything about that language.
After learning just what the Pullman Car Porters were doing I wrote President Green. He wrote President Randolph several letters. He had a conference with President Randolph and some of his associates in President Green’s office in which President Green tried to get him to discontinue his tactics. He failed, and then he requested President Randolph to confer with me, and President Randolph and Vice President Webster came into my office in Kansas City on June 15 last. We talked the situation over at great length, but they were very adamant in their position that they were going ahead. I asked President Randolph if he knew what the ultimate outcome of that might be. “Well,” he said, “I don’t know. It might mean that we would be kicked out of the A.F. of L.” Now, he fully realized what he and his associates were doing and what the possibility might be in their doing that.
Here is a letter from President Green to me, dated June 21, 1945. I will not read all of it, but the last paragraph on the first page will be interesting
“I submit the following quotation from a letter I received from President Randolph acknowledging receipt of my communication and advising me that he was planning to meet with you. The quotation is as follows:
“‘May I say, however, that I cannot agree to discontinue the work of organizing the Pullman car cleaners and yard forces, who have been without organization for 50 years or more, except that they had a company union since 1920. Moreover, some of the car cleaners are colored, and as I understand it are not eligible for membership in the Brotherhood of Railway Carmen because of a color clause in their constitution.’”
The statement that they hadn’t any organization for more than 50 years is disproved by the fact that we had an agreement to strike in 1922, and the statement that they have had a company union since 1922 likewise is not a fact, because we had the agreement and we lost it in 1921.
During the strike of July 1, 1921, the National Railroad Labor Board, meeting here in Chicago on July 3, 1921, adopted a resolution calling upon the management of the railroads, every railroad in the United States, because there was in excess of 500,000 shop men out on strike because that board had abrogated their agreement on every railroad in the United States, and imposed upon them two reductions in pay.
That resolution of July 3 called upon the management to form an organization to deal for the employees that remained in the service and those that might come in during the strike. That was the starting of so-called company unions. The management of the railroads wrote those agreements. They appointed the officers of that company union and there are two of them still in existence. That is the Pullman Company and the Pennsylvania Railroad, and we now have a campaign on the Pennsylvania that we expect to take over in a short while.
Here is a letter that President Green wrote to President Randolph on July 13, 1945. It reads in part as follows:
“The complaints which reach me alleging that you are transgressing upon the jurisdiction of metal trades organizations affiliated with the American Federation of Labor in the campaign which you have launched to organize certain employees of the Pullman Company have increased. As evidence of this fact I enclose a copy of the letter I received from President MacGowan of the International Brotherhood of Boilermakers, Iron Shipbuilders and Helpers, a copy of a letter I received from President Brown of the International Association of Machinists, and a copy of a letter I received from President Horn of the International Brotherhood of Blacksmiths, Drop Forgers and Helpers.
“I cannot help but believe that after you have read these copies of letters I am enclosing you will agree with me that the situation dealt with in the correspondence has become quite serious. Certainly the Brotherhood of Sleeping Car Porters’ organization, of which you are president, cannot claim jurisdiction over boilermakers, machinists, blacksmiths and drop forgers, or any mechanics employed by the Pullman Company. For this reason I must, in a most friendly but emphatic way, call upon you to immediately cease and desist from attempting to organize workers such as are referred to in this correspondence, or other employees of the Pullman Company who do not come under the jurisdiction of your Sleeping Car Porters’ organization.”
Here is a letter that I prepared and which went out over the signature of the shop craft organizations—seven of them—including the officers of the Railway Employees’ Department, under date of September 4. It is addressed to the Pullman Yard Employees:
“No doubt your attention has recently been called to a four-page handbill or circular, the first page of which is headed ‘Attention Pullman Yard Forces’ over the signature of President A. Philip Randolph of the Sleeping Car Porters. The second and third page are entitled ‘An Open Letter to All Members of the Pullman Yard Forces,’ three columns over the signature of International Secretary Ashley L. Totten.
“The first paragraph of the open letter reads as follows:
“‘The writer believes in striking the iron while it is hot. The best time to kill a snake is when it shows its head.’
“We agree with the contents of the above quotation and believe that the Sleeping Car Porters can be likened to the snake in that case, because they have raised their head in violation of their charter rights with the A.F. of L. and are encroaching upon the charter rights and raiding the jurisdiction of the organizations signatory to this circular.”
Here is a letter from President Green to President Randolph of August 15:
“Following the conclusion of the hearing which was held by the Executive Council, in which you participated, of the complaint filed by President Knight of the Brotherhood of Railway Carmen and a number of representatives of other railway shop craft organizations against the Brotherhood of Sleeping Car Porters, the Executive Council directed me to communicate with you requesting that you discontinue organizing employees of the Pullman Company and railroad companies who, it was pointed out at the hearing, come under the jurisdiction of the Brotherhood of Railway Carmen and other shop craft organizations. The Executive Council requests that you discontinue the efforts you are putting forth to organize these workers into the Brotherhood of Sleeping Car Porters, otherwise the Council will be compelled to take further action.”
Here is a circular put out over the signature of President Randolph:
“Dear Brothers and Sisters:
“Little David slew Goliath and the Brotherhood of Sleeping Car Porters can lick the Carmen’s Union and its allies.”
Well, now, it seems to me that that is a pretty big undertaking. If I understand the American Federation of Labor, the Brotherhood of Railway Carmen as an affiliate of the American Federation of Labor, is an ally to all other affiliates of the American Federation of Labor. Or turn it around the other way—all affiliates to the American Federation of Labor are allies of the Brotherhood of Railway Carmen, so they are saying here that they can whip the carmen and their allies.
Then the next paragraph reads:
“The Brotherhood of Sleeping Car Porters is out to represent all of the yard and shop forces—all of the yard and shop forces, including mechanics, helpers and apprentices; painters, helpers and apprentices; upholsterers, helpers and apprentices; electrical repairmen, helpers and apprentices, and car cleaners.”
There is a lot more here, but it is getting late, so I will just take up this and it will be the last.
This representation vote that is going to be taken in a few days among the shop craft employees and the yard and terminal employees of the Pullman, the same as if they were all working under one roof—by the National Mediation Board, Case No. R-1625—Washington, involving machinists, their helpers and apprentices; blacksmiths, their helpers and apprentices; sheet metal workers, their helpers and apprentices; electrical workers, their helpers and apprentices; carmen, their helpers and apprentices; powerhouse and shop laborers; storeroom, non-clerical—now, can you conceive of the Pullman porters having a place on the ballot when that is the vote that is going to be taken? Of course, I may not have a college education and I might not be competent to realize just what that means, but I do know what it means at a 147 properties where these shop craft organizations have taken the representation vote since the amending of the Railway Labor Act in 1934, and they have voted in that way in each and every instance, and we have been certified to as the bargaining agent and we expect to be certified to on the Pennsylvania when the vote is taken shortly. But under the present conditions I doubt if any crafts or any class will get a majority of the eligible votes in the 200 railway terminal yards and six rebuilding plants, and if they don’t the company unions will be certified as the bargaining agent sometime later.
Now, then, I do not think that an amend to the committee’s report, with these facts before us, is a proper motion, and I, therefore, trust that you will vote it down and approve the committee’s report. That leaves it in the hands of the Executive Council of the American Federation of Labor.
DELEGATE LYNCH, Pattern Workers: Delegate Lynch, in parliamentary fashion, applies himself to the question before the house, which is the matter of amending the committee’s report. First, let me say that I listened attentively to Brother Knight. It is not my intention here or now to enter into the merits of a jurisdictional dispute. I heard some reference to some language that was reminiscent about taking apart all of these railway organizations, but that is not strange language in this convention. If my memory serves me right I think I heard that same language employed in 1935 by no less eminent a man than John L. Lewis himself. I think I have heard that same language come from other representatives of the so-called craft unions in this convention.
But I want to make one thing clear, President Green, that in all of these matters that come in the nature of jurisdictional disputes which are never solved, they usually come before this convention with a recommendation to refer it to the President of the American Federation of Labor or to the Council without a dire threat in the first instance. You have had jurisdictional disputes on this floor this afternoon and they were referred, not once, as I understood President Stevenson, but twice, and for three or four years, and so I want to make clear that I am not entering into this jurisdictional dispute, despite the fact that President Knight has some pattern makers which he is welcome to. I don’t want them.
But I say this, that when you come before this convention with a threat to George Lynch or Philip Randolph or anyone else in the first instance, you will behave worse than the National Labor Relations Board, which you criticized on this convention floor.
I have no objections to referring it to the Council. We might have to refer District 50, and are we going to throw out the Mine Workers if the Paper Makers or Pulp and Sulphite Workers ask for their jurisdiction there? I guess not. The Miners have 500,000 votes. That is a couple of more than Philip Randolph or George Lynch.
What I am objecting to, Mr. President, is the threat. I don’t like it. Perhaps that is because I am Irish, and the Irish don’t take anything, even from the King.
DELEGATE BURKE, Pulp and Sulphite Workers: I made the amendment. As a delegate to this convention I feel a keen sense of responsibility in casting my vote upon this question. In deciding a jurisdictional question of this kind the delegates are placed in the position of a jury, the delegates have to make the decision. I think every delegate should feel as I do, that it is a very grave responsibility that is put upon us in voting upon a question of this kind.
I have listened to the arguments from both sides. After listening to the arguments it seems to me that this is one of those borderline cases where something can be said on both sides. Now it would seem to me that, instead of talking at this time about suspending the Brotherhood of Sleeping Car Porters, the proper procedure would be to refer it back to the Executive Council for further conferences and further efforts to settle this dispute.
As we look back a few years and look at the records of the American Federation of Labor, I find a great many unions have been suspended or expelled. I remember that the United Mine Workers were suspended or expelled—I have forgotten which. I voted against the suspension or expulsion of the United Mine Workers. The record of the American Federation of Labor convention will show that the delegates from the Pulp, Sulphite and Paper Workers’ Union voted against the suspension of the United Mine Workers. After the Mine Workers were out for a number of years we voted three years ago at the Boston convention to give the Executive Council power to enter into negotiations with the Mine Workers to try to bring them back into the A.F. of L., and after three years of negotiations we are happy to have delegates of the United Mine Workers of America sitting at this convention.
But how was that brought about? I suppose that negotiation after negotiation was held between the leaders of the United Mine Workers of America and the Executive Council of the American Federation of Labor. This is what usually happens after we suspend an international union. That union either comes back or somebody from the Executive Council or someone else goes to that union and tries to get it back. Then conferences are held—conferences and conferences, until finally, as in the case of the United Mine Workers, the union comes back.
Why not have these conferences and discussions and efforts before we suspend the union? Does that make sense?
Then we suspended the Brewery Workers’ Union. I voted against it. Where are the Brewery Workers today? In the CIO—is that right? Yes, they are in the CIO, affiliated with the CIO.
We suspended the Lithographers. Where are they? In the CIO. Let’s not forget, brother delegates, that when we suspend an organization from the American Federation of Labor today there is another powerful organization of labor with its arms wide open to receive that suspended organization.
Suppose we suspend or talk about suspending this organization composed of colored workers. Just imagine what a nice morsel that would be for the Communist press of this country! Can you picture the headline in the “Daily Worker?” You delegates to this convention must know the damnable propaganda that is being circulated among the colored workers in this country by the Communistic elements in the CIO. We have Labor Board elections in the South where the colored workers have voted solidly against our organization, because they have been fed on this damnable propaganda that the American Federation of Labor is discriminating against the colored workers, and they are making the colored workers believe it.
I am warning the delegates to this convention to be careful in voting on this proposition. I urge the delegates to vote for my amendment. I urge you to think carefully before you vote. You are the jury. If you want to do the American Federation of Labor a service, vote for my amendment and let the Executive Council make another effort to settle this jurisdictional dispute before we talk about suspending the Brotherhood of Sleeping Car Porters.
DELEGATE CLARK, Typographical Union: I have listened very carefully to all of this testimony from both sides on this question, and as one delegate I feel I cannot be free to vote any other than to support the amendment that has been made here, for this reason, that I believe that every delegate in this hall believes in ironing out our differences by conciliation and collective bargaining, and certainly when we hold a club over one organization’s head, such as a definite threat to suspend them if they don’t accede, that is not collective bargaining. It is holding a pistol at their head.
I don’t want to take any part or be any judge in a jurisdictional matter, for this reason. First, I have listened to these arguments, I have found conflicting statements, and even the labor paper that was laid upon our desks carries a picture of President Knight, and under the picture it says:
“President Felix Knight, of the Brotherhood of Railway Carmen, A.F. of L., presided over the Union’s recent convention in Chicago. Knight supported a proposal to eliminate the color bar from the union’s constitution, but the delegates voted it down.”
I have heard here in the discussion that the color bar was removed from the constitution. This paper is dated October 10, the Colorado Labor Advocate. It is all the more confusing, and I do believe that the only wise course, the only sane course we can take is to support the amendment and not place a definite threat over the Brotherhood of Sleeping Car Porters.
PRESIDENT GREEN: Are there any further remarks?
DELEGATE RANDOLPH, Brotherhood of Sleeping Car Porters—-
PRESIDENT GREEN: Delegate Randolph, the Chair can only recognize you if there are no others who wish to speak who have not yet spoken. Are there others who wish to speak who have not spoken? It seems not, and the Chair will recognize you.
DELEGATE RANDOLPH, Brotherhood of Sleeping Car Porters: I simply want to say that the delegates of the Brotherhood of Sleeping Car Porters are in agreement with the amendment proposed by Delegate Burke. We feel that this question is too complex, it is too far-reaching to be disposed of summarily and hastily, as it is being disposed of, according to the report of the Adjustment Committee.
It was a rather strange procedure, anyway, that in the Adjustment Committee President Knight served as the chairman, the prosecutor and the jury. He produced all of the documents and presented documents to support his argument against the Brotherhood of Sleeping Car Porters. That does not smack of the democracy we have been talking about here.
I do not think we have ever had in the history of this organization a case comparable to this. Here you are calling upon a convention, where a question is raised before it for the first time, to take drastic action in suspending an organization which is charged with trespassing upon the jurisdictional rights of another organization. I never heard of that before.
Why do you have this desperation on the part of the Brotherhood of Railway Carmen and the other organizations? The reason is simple, it is plain. The Brotherhood of Railway Carmen and other organizations are in desperation because they think they are going to lose the election which is going to be staged in the next few weeks, and they want to use this convention as a public forum to propagandize the workers in the Pullman yards and get them to vote for them. That is the reason for this desperation.
There is no precedent for this action. It is extraordinary for an organization which is brought upon the charge of trespassing the jurisdiction of another organization to be suspended by the convention in which that question is first raised.
We are perfectly willing for this matter to be referred to the Executive Council and Brother William Green, without that threat of suspension which is a part of that resolution.
The question was called for.
PRESIDENT GREEN: The question now recurs upon the amendment to the committee’s report. I presume that every delegate here understands the report quite well and the amendment to the report now pending for decision. The question will recur upon the amendment.
All in favor of the adoption of the amendment to the committee’s report will please say aye. Those opposed will say no. The ayes seem to have it, the ayes have it, and it is so ordered.
The question now recurs upon the adoption of the report as amended. All in favor of that motion please say aye. Those opposed will say no.
The ayes have it, the motion is carried, and it is so ordered.
The convention will stand adjourned until tomorrow morning.
At 6:20 o’clock p.m., the convention was adjourned to 9:30 o’clock, Tuesday morning. October 15.
Proceedings of the 66th annual convention of the American Federation of Labor, 1946, pp. 452–62.
By Clarence Mitchell186
The Crisis, 54 (April, 1947): 106–107.
By James W. Ford
One of the most promising signs of the times is the editorial comment of the London Times of Feb. 19 on the World Trade Union Conference. The Times says the World Trade Union Conference “has ended with a notable success,” and adds that “the chance of uniting ‘the trade union bodies of freedom-loving nations irrespective of racial, creed, political, religious or philosophical differences’ has never before been greater.’
This announcement by Britain’s most powerful newspaper which exerts wide influence on British policy throughout the Empire holds special significance in regard to the establishment of democratic and unmolested trade unions in colonial countries and particularly in the British colonies of Africa and the West Indies. It is indeed a hopeful sign when the London Times favors a world trade union movement based upon freedom-loving peoples irrespective of race or creed.
On July 1, 1931, the International Conference of Negro Workers was scheduled to be held in London. The British government prohibited the holding of the conference in London, and leading English dailies fully supported the policy of the government. The conference was subsequently held at Hamburg, Germany. In attendance were delegates of trades organizations of labor from South Africa, from Accra, Gambia, Nigeria and Sierra Leone in West Africa; from Jamaica and Haiti in the West Indies, as well as representatives of Negro labor from the United States.
What the British government and the English press seemed to fear at that time was the perspective of the organization of free trade unions of Negro laborers. This policy was however, only the policy and attitude of the International Federation of Trade Unions (Amsterdam) towards colored and colonial labor. The IFTU was essentially a European and American labor organization. For the leaders of Amsterdam the world did not include colored and colonial labor in the brotherhood of labor. At times it made pretenses of friendship for colonial labor by having government-dominated representatives from certain colonial areas. The record shows that on numerous occasions many of these fraternal delegates, finding out the true character of the IFTU, protested and left these international gatherings in disgust. So far as Negro labor was concerned the IFTU was completely degenerate. The apathy growing out of this attitude led to the calling of the First International Trade Union Conference of Negro Workers in 1931.
Present at the conference were regularly elected delegates from the Gold Coast Carpenters Association and the Gold Coast Drivers Association of Accra; the Colored Labor’s Organization of South Africa; the Gambia Labor Union; the Nigerian Democratic Workers’ Association; the Railroad Workers’ Union of Sierra Leone, and the Railway Workers’ Union of Jamaica, West Indies. The conference, after listening to the reports from the various countries, adopted a program of simple trade union organization, including the right to organize, shorter hours, a living wage, social benefits, against forced labor and repressions and a petition for democratic rights in general in their respective countries. “We are here for no political controversies,” declared the basic report of the conference. The years following proved particularly fruitful in the stimulation of trade unionism among Negro workers.
The war against fascism has also resulted in the liberalization of trade union policy towards many Negro colonies. In the British colony of Jamaica, a strong labor movement has grown up. Concessions have been won from the British government for a legislative council and in recent elections the Jamaica Labor Party came out with more than two-thirds majority in the House.
Today we see a new world body of labor formed which does not despise colored and colonial labor peoples; but which on the contrary, encompasses delegates from Nigeria, Jamaica, India, China and Latin America as equal brothers of the world labor movement. Obviously this is a firm democratic foundation. It is in line with the policies laid down at Teheran, Cairo and Crimea.
Daily Worker, February 22, 1948.
PITTSBURGH, March 7.—Matt Smith has gotten a sharp rebuff from the Pittsburgh Courier, Negro weekly. The Courier advises workers to join the CIO and AFL and steer clear of the Confederated Unions of America. This latter group is the catch-all of company and “independent” unions, which its president Smith, notorious for his strikes and his opposition to the war, is trying to build up in the East. Affiliates are now confined mostly to Ohio and Michigan.
A correspondent for the Courier, Nat Middleton, attended a CUA meeting in Philadelphia last Sunday, and interviewed the only Negro present, C. E. Hendricks. He is president of the so-called “Pullman Porters Independent Union of New York City,” which claims a national membership of 800. “He admitted,” Middleton writes, “that the Confederate Unions of America was not as liberal on the race question as he had hoped.”
“Mr. Kendricks is attempting to attract other Negroes to this organization. . . . I can see no reason why Negro workers should pay the slightest attention. . . . The wiser course seems to be to join the CIO and AFL in greater numbers and become a factor in these old-established labor organizations.”
Daily Worker, March 8, 1948.
By Charles H. Houston187
The Crisis, 56 (October, 1949): 269–71, 284–85.
PRESENTATION OF PLAQUE TO PRESIDENT GREEN BY THE BROTHERHOOD OF SLEEPING CAR PORTERS
DELEGATE RANDOLPH: President Green, officers, members and delegates to the Sixty-Eighth Annual Convention of the American Federation of Labor:
On behalf of the officers and members of the Brotherhood of Sleeping Car Porters and the delegates to this convention, Milton P. Webster, First International Vice-President, and Frank Boyd, Secretary-Treasurer of the Twin Cities Division, we take the highest pleasure and privilege and honor in presenting to you, President Green, a symbol of the esteem, affection and love of the officers and members of the Brotherhood of Sleeping Car Porters entertain and hold for you. We hold you in high esteem because of your support and cooperation with our organization in the days of its darkest struggles, and also because of your fight for the elimination of discrimination because of race, color, religion, national origin or ancestry.
Division in the ranks of labor because of race, color, religion, national origin or ancestry weakens the labor movement and disarms it in its fight to achieve higher wage rates, improved working conditions, shorter hours of work, democracy and peace. You, Brother William Green, President of the American Federation of Labor, have given of your talents and ability and the prestige and power of your office, as the head of the great American Federation of Labor to help eliminate all forms of discrimination and segregation from the labor movement. The Brotherhood of Sleeping Car Porters, which is committed to protect and safeguard the rights and advance the cause of its members, and also dedicated to fight to abolish racial and religious discrimination, takes great joy in presenting to you this plaque as a token of appreciation of the important, far-reaching, constructive and uncompromising role you have played and are playing to fulfill the historic mission of the trade union movement in seeking to achieve the well-being of all wage earners regardless of race, creed, color, national origin or ancestry.
In the early days of the struggle of the Brotherhood of Sleeping Car Porters, you, whenever called upon for support and cooperation, never failed to respond.
A cursory examination of the problems of minorities and labor will reveal that the struggle to exterminate racial and religious discrimination cannot be separated from the fight against inequality and insecurity, as well as the social and psychological uncertainties and frustrations that arise therefrom.
We of the Brotherhood of Sleeping Car Porters are happy to take this occasion to express our thanks for the fact that you, along with other officers of the AFL, have invariably and consistently made it known that the AFL regards racial and religious intolerance, bigotry and discrimination as a grave menace to the trade union movement.
In your speeches to the annual conventions of the AfL, and at conventions of the Brotherhood of Sleeping Car Porters, you have pointed out in unmistakable terms, that the practice of playing upon prejudices, racial, religious and national, is followed by brutal attacks upon the labor movement itself.
The Brotherhood of Sleeping Car Porters congratulates you and the AFL on the fight you are making for the enactment of federal legislation for a Fair Employment Practice Committee.
We honor you because you have fought and still fight to abolish the Poll Tax that all men may vote.
We honor you because you have fought and still fight to eradicate the disgrace of lynch-law from our land.
We honor you because you stand against jim-crow and discrimination in our armed forces, believing that every boy who gives his life for our country should have the right to die as a free man.
We honor you because of your support of federal aid to education, without discrimination.
We honor you because of your uncompromising opposition to Communism and Fascism that are bent upon the destruction of free trade unionism everywhere.
Our Brotherhood realizes that the fight against racial discrimination and segregation cannot be separated from the fight against discrimination and hatred against all groups, Jews, Catholics, Orientals, Mexicans, foreign born and labor.
Anthropological and psychological studies of prejudice unequivocally establish that in the main, people who are prejudiced against one minority group, are hostile to other minority groups. Thus, an attempt to fight discrimination on account of race, while disregarding movements of anti-Semitism, anti-Catholicism, anti-foreignism and anti-liberalism, would be ineffective, futile and naive. So long as a Jew in Poland, or a Catholic in Czechoslovakia, or a Japanese in California, or a Hindu in Vancouver, Canada, or a Mexican in Texas is denied fundamental human and civil rights, the security of the Negro, or for that matter, a white-Protestant in the labor movement or anywhere, cannot be assured.
Verily, the fight for justice and freedom for minorities and labor is indivisible, because freedom and justice are indivisible.
Because of the aforementioned reasons and facts, the Brotherhood of Sleeping Car Porters, seeing that the powerful and menacing forces of Communism in the United States, Europe, Asia and Africa are seeking to split or control the labor movement and minorities, white and colored, takes this occasion of viewing this presentation of this plaque to you, President Green, as a challenge and refutation to the vicious misrepresentations and violent psychological warfare being waged by totalitarian Communist Russia and her satellites against a free trade union movement, the Negro liberation movement, and the cause of the Western democracies in general and the democracy of the United States of America in particular.
We believe that labor’s and democracy’s best answer to Communism is to be true to itself, true to its traditions and struggles, its hopes and faiths. Democracy can only answer Communism with a frank and honest recognition of the essential worth, value and equality of every human personality, without regard to race, color, religion, national origin or ancestry. Any equivocation of this principle of equality will be fatal to the cause of democracy.
Neither armies nor atomic bombs are as potent in the protection of democracy and our judeo-Christian heritage as the high moral principle of the Brotherhood of Man and the decent and honest respect for every human being, whether he be Catholic or Jew, native or foreign, white or black, brown or yellow, man or woman, rich or poor.
The grave question before the workers today is which ideology, democracy or Communism, will win the minds, wills, hearts, allegiances and souls of the millions of workers in America and Europe; which ideology will capture the imagination and minds of the teeming missions of the peoples of color in the United States, the West Indies, Africa, Asia and the Isles of the Sea.
Let us be warned that this is the issue and we don’t have long to decide. The sands are running out and if we fail to build a bastion of freedom among the peoples of color of the Americas and the world and the workers everywhere outside the Soviet orbit, we may not be able to withstand the rising tides of red tyranny.
Mighty militant ideas are on the march across the world. This is an ideological age. We are in the midst of an ideological war. A program of mere anti-Communism is not enough. We need a dynamic program of pro-democracy; yes, Christian democracy not only political but industrial, economic and ethnic.
Verily, labor still has some way to go to remove all barriers of race or color, but thank God, we are on our way.
Let us weld our diversities into a creative unity for the victory of the principles of a free trade union movement and the dignity of the human spirit over the deadening forces of materialism, hate and war.
It is possible that this occasion of expression of the simple and common principles, ideals and values of love, respect, cooperation and unity, with high moral purposes between representatives of two great racial groups, may at this time of great world tension, serve as one of the decisive factors in directing the destiny of peoples of color and labor along the path of democracy and human rights.
Men of all races, colors, religions and climes are hungry for peace. They are hungry for love. They are hungry for a living faith in themselves and their fellow men. Yes, millions, too, hunger for bread. They stretch out their arms to our great country, and they look to the mighty millions of men of labor in our land for hope and help.
But, we cannot give them peace. We cannot give them faith. We cannot give democracy. We cannot give them leadership and love until we create and nourish and practice them here, ourselves; practice them with each other.
Yes, we are rich in land and machines. We have powerful unions in members and money. We excel in material resources. But, this is not sufficient. We need riches of the spirit. We need new and vital, dynamic resources of the soul. Yes, we must develop a moral rearmament which can and will conquer the arrogant, ideological minions of Stalinist Russia and give man the fresh, living waters of peace and good will toward all mankind.
Humble porters, and their officials, on the trains that cover the nation, giving of themselves for service, salute you, President Green. Forward with the torch of human dignity and liberty under the banner of the American Federation of Labor and the free trade union movement of the world.
At the conclusion of his remarks Delegate Randolph presented to President Green a plaque with a copper engraving mounted on mahogany and bearing the following inscription:
For Distinguished Service in the Fight for the Abolition of Racial Discrimination in the Labor Movement, Presented to William Green, President of the American Federation of Labor, Sixty-Eighth Annual Convention, October 3, 1949, Saint Paul, Minnesota, by the Brotherhood of Sleeping Car Porters International Union, Affiliate, A.F. of L.
In the center of the plaque was a replica of a sleeping car porter in uniform.
President Randolph, Mr. Webster, and associates: I am deeply touched by the eloquent statement you made and by your presentation to me of this beautiful plaque. I cannot find words or language at the moment that will adequately express my thanks, gratitude and appreciation for this plaque which you have presented me on this occasion.
But aside from that, I am sure that every delegate in attendance at this convention was tremendously impressed by the impressive and eloquent address which you delivered. Coming as it does from you, the President of the Brotherhood of Sleeping Car Porters’ organization, and those you represent, it must be regarded as most significant and wonderful. I ask you, fellow delegates, isn’t it wonderful?
Here is a splendid organization made up of colored workers organized in the American Federation of Labor some few years ago, that has grown and expanded and developed until it is now a very vital and effective force in collective bargaining, and in our great organized labor movement. Surely we must interpret this impressive address as meaning that as a result of affilation with our great movement there has developed among these colored workers who make up this splendid organization, a new, a keener, and more comprehensive sense and understanding of the economic, social, and industrial philosophy of the American Federation of Labor.
Along with my colleagues connected with the Federation of Labor we have learned and understood early in life that it was impossible to establish the brotherhood of man—and our organization is based upon that principle—until we first recognize that every man of character and standing, regardless of creed, color, or nationality, must be permitted to join and work with all other workers in the nation. I cannot conceive of the establishment of that principle and that organization anywhere or anyplace until those who advocate brotherhood practice brotherhood and express themselves repeatedly over and over again as opposed to discrimination because of creed, color, or nationality anywhere, anyplace in the United States of America.
We have grown and developed and expanded, serving in that capacity and preaching that unchallenged doctrine. We are advocating that unchallenged doctrine. We are advocating it. We stand for it. We are united. We are going to make it more effective in the future than we have in the past.
I want these brothers to carry that message back, tell them that they can rely upon this brotherhood, the American Federation of Labor, to practice and preach brotherhood everywhere, every place, and to fight against discrimination because of race, creed, color, or nationality anywhere or any place.
I want to thank you from the bottom of my heart for this beautiful plaque you presented me this morning, and I want to assure you that I shall always retain it among my priceless possessions, placing emphasis upon its intrinsic value and still more, upon the sentiments which I know it expresses.
Proceedings of the 69th annual convention of the American Federation of Labor, 1949, pp. 328–31.
New Orleans does not have a large number of major industrial plants. There are only five industries which may be considered in the category of large industries. These are:
Todd Johnson Shipbuilders and Dry Dock—now engaged primarily in ship repairs.
Higgins Shipbuilding Company—since the war, engaged mostly in the building of pleasure crafts.
Penick-Ford—engaged in molasses manufacturing
Lane Cotton Mills
All of these plants employ Negroes, but mostly as unskilled workers. Negroes are members of labor unions in the above industries. Lane Cotton Mills has the largest number of Negroes of any single employer, using approximately 300 in a total force of 1,600.
According to officials in both the AF of L and CIO unions, there are approximately 30,000 Negroes in labor unions in New Orleans, many of which (unions) are interracial.
The General Longshore Workers Union, Local #1419, with a membership of approximately 3,200 Negroes, is perhaps the largest Negro union in the nation. Negro and white longshoremen are members of separate unions but work on the same job and sign the same contracts. The union has five representatives in the Central Trades Labor Council and is entitled to twelve delegates to the State Federation of Labor. Members of both Negro and white longshoremen’s unions are members of the same Council. One Meeting is held each quarter among the total Negro and white membership. At one meeting the Negro president presides and the white president serves as secretary. In the following meeting the order is reversed. Local #1419 has been one of the politically active groups in the city. Recently a person was employed by the union on a full-time basis to teach union and non-union residents how to qualify to vote and how to use voting machinery. . . .
Both Negro and white union officials expressed the opinion that, on the whole, labor relations between Negroes and whites in New Orleans are exceptionally good. They agreed, however, that there have been evidences of discrimination toward Negroes which have impeded the building of a strong united front in labor.
The National Union of Marine Cooks and Stewards has done more to protect the interests of its Negro membership than any of the other local unions. . . .
In the International Brotherhood of Teamsters, Local #965, which is a mixed AFL local, Negroes hold positions of president, vice-president, secretary-treasurer, and trustees.
Louis Stark, manager of the Laundry Workers of America, stated that the relationship between Negroes and whites in his local is good. The president of the union is colored. Negroes are also stewards and committeemen.
The president and general manager of the General Truck Drivers and Chauffeurs Union stated that there may be internal feelings between Negroes and whites toward each other, but these are not allowed to affect affairs in the union. The Negro elected officers, he stated, were chosen with good white support. The assistant business manager and organizer of the union are Negroes
There are six Negro members in Local #2369 of the United Steel Workers of America, CIO, and all of these are good members according to Ralph J. Levison, president. . . .
Negro plumbers are consistently denied membership in the local plumbers union. The local policy of the union states that a prospective member must have his application vouched for by a member of the organization. This rule is a disadvantage for Negroes because no white member has ever vouched for a Negro. Negroes in New Orleans who engage in plumbing work are under the supervision of white licensed plumbers. There are two certified Negro plumbers in the city; both are certified by the union and the city. Because of the union policy they have not been elected into membership in the union.
There is an almost unanimous acceptance in all AFL and CIO unions of equal pay for equal work among Negro and white union members. The major problem among Negro union members is in the shipbuilding industry where they have difficulty in getting upgraded. . . .
It was the opinion of observers . . . that there are employers who refuse to employ Negro union workers if their wages are to be the same as white worker Several Negro craftsmen advised the writer that some contractors still just refuse to employ Negro union members. In the construction of the Le Garde Hospital in 1941, it is claimed that the white union painters refused to work on the job with Negro painters who were also union men in another local. The engineer in charge of the job designated a number of the buildings for Negroes to work on in order to provide them with employment. It should be pointed out that this type of discrimination no longer exists among white union painters.
Little is done in an organized way to foster workers’ education by the AFL or CIO.
The AFL recently sponsored two workers’ education meetings for business agents of their unions. These meetings, held at Dillard University, were attended by approximately 80 per cent of the business agents of all AFL locals.
George Snowden is the leading Negro spokesman and a person of special influence in the AFL union. He is a member of the Central Trades Council and head of the workers’ education program which he initiated and had adopted by the Council. In 1948 he became a vice-president of the State Federation of Labor, the first Negro to be elected to that position in Louisiana.
New Orleans, Louisiana: 1950
“A Review of the Economic Problems of New Orleans, La., February - March, 1950,” Department of Research and Community Projects, National Urban League report, pp. 44–58.
The CIO last week hopped into the middle of a major legal fight against state-enforced segregation of Negroes.
In the U.S. Supreme Court the CIO filed a “friend of the court” brief backing up G. W. McLaurin in his fight to put an end to segregation practices at the Univ. of Oklahoma Law School.
The university, having lost a fight to bar Negroes from the school, instituted a strict segregation set-up. McLaurin was forced to sit in a special section of the classroom, eat in a corner of the cafeteria, use a special desk at the law school library.
McLaurin protested in the courts that this scheme was in violation of the Fourteenth Amendment to the Constitution. The CIO brief was filed in support of his case, which comes up before the nation’s highest court this week.
Two other important discrimination cases are due to come up at the same time. One of the cases is Henderson vs. U.S., which challenges the right of Southern railroads to set up segregated dining car services for Negroes.
The Interstate Commerce Commission had approved the railroad’s policy, but U.S. Solicitor General Philip Perlman, who represents Uncle Sam in arguments before the Supreme Court—has agreed with Henderson and opposed the ICC position.
The other case is Sweatt vs. Painter which involves the refusal of the Univ. of Texas Law School to admit a qualified Negro as a student. The CIO was barred from filing a friend-of-the-court brief in that state by the objections of the Texas attorney general.
The CIO brief in the McLaurin case was filed by General Counsel Arthur J. Goldberg.
“The question is only whether a state may require segregation for the sake of segregation, nothing more,” Goldberg said in his McLaurin argument.
The Oklahoma Univ. rule, he charged, “is not to permit them (the students) to practice segregation but to require them to do so.”
Objective of this type of regulation, the CIO added, is not to preserve public order—since there had been no evidence of disturbances or threats. “The purpose and intent . . . whatever may be the justification offered, is to stamp the Negro as inferior and to require, in the field of higher education, the preservation and maintenance of the policy of ‘white supremacy.’”
“The issue which the Court must decide is whether such regulations meet the requirements of the Fourteenth Amendment that no state shall deny to its citizens ‘the equal protection of the laws.’ Once the issue is clearly seen, we submit that only a negative answer is possible.”
The issue in the case, Goldberg’s statement added, can be confused only by use of the “false assumption” of Negro inferiority and of the belief that no white persons ever want to associate with Negroes.
“The assumption is false,” the CIO brief said. “The CIO is living proof that it is false. And, apart from matters of proof, certainly such an assumption . . . has no place in our constitutional doctrine.
“The Court should hold that such compulsory segregation is, per se, unconstitutional because it deprives both whites and Negroes of freedom of choice because of color, and nothing else.”
CIO News, April 3, 1950.
By Vicki Garvin
(Vice President, Distributive, Processing and Office Workers)
If it is true, as has often been stated, that a people can rise no higher than its women, then Negro people have a long way to go before reaching the ultimate goal of complete freedom and equality in the United States.
Latest figures on the job status of Negro women dramatically point up the inescapable fact that they are at the very bottom of the nation’s economic ladder. A glance at the record shows that the average Negro woman in the U.S.:
Earns only $13 per week.
Is forced into the dirtiest, least desirable jobs.
Puts in abnormally long hours.
By and large, Negro women today are living and working under conditions reminiscent of the plantation era, even though slavery was ostensibly abolished by constitutional amendment some 85 years ago. When it’s considered that seven out of every 10 Negro women workers are chained to menial service jobs as farm hands, domestics, etc., where in addition to low pay and deplorable working conditions, human dignity is least respected, it can readily be seen that raising the level of women generally and Negro women in particular is an acid test for democracy at this crucial point in history.
Low Pay in Boom
Even during the peak period of World War II when pay envelopes were considered to be fatter than ever before, domestic workers, both Negro and white, averaged a take-home pay of only $339 per year.
In New York City, where one-half of all Negro women at work are domestics labor officials admit that the present average work day is 13 and 14 hours long
In the South, the situation is complicated by the fact that while only 50 per cent of white women workers have found employment as clerks, saleswomen and factory workers, Negro women for all practical purposes are barred from these “white collar” and semi-skilled jobs. In fact, the income of the average Negro family in southern rural areas is a substandard $942 yearly.
The Negro woman worker, whether married or single, faces the additional burden of feeding one or more dependents besides herself. As a member of a family whose average income in urban centers is but $42 a week, Negro women have no choice but to find employment to help meet basic food, clothing and shelter needs.
In the case of white families, where the average income is $75 weekly, the pressure upon children to leave school and seek work is not nearly so severe as it is among Negroes. Yet, significantly, more than half of all Negro college students are women. The reverse is true of white students.
Getting a husband is not the answer for the Negro woman’s search for security and release from back breaking toil, for the proportion of Negro women who enter the labor force after marriage is much higher than the one out of five rate for white women. When most Negro women think about marriage and children, it is almost a foregone conclusion that she will become a co-breadwinner.
Freedom, November 1950.
Charlotte, N.C.—“. . . No railroad in the United States has ever employed a Negro as engineer. . . . Because railroads do not permit Negroes to hold engineer’s posts is no reason that the bargaining agent representing them should use bargaining power to deprive them of desirable positions as firemen, which railroads permit them to hold.”
This was the gist of an opinion handed down by the U.S. Fourth Circuit Court of Appeals January 3. The court reversed a lower court decision which permitted railroads to restrict hiring of Negroes as firemen. Senior Judge John J. Parker delivered the opinion which voided an agreement by railroads and railroad brotherhoods to restrict the hiring of Negroes to no more than 50 per cent of those employed as firemen.
The original suit was filed in the U.S. District Court of Virginia by William J. Relax and others against the jim crow Atlantic Coast Line Railroad and various railroad unions.
Judge Parker’s decision noted that the Brotherhood of Locomotive Firemen had urged that Negroes be excluded from employment as firemen because they were non-promotable to engineers. A spokesman for the Brotherhood contacted in Cleveland, said the union had no comment right now.
Freedom, January 1951.
By Ernest Thompson
United actions of Negro and white workers in a union is the most effective way of wiping out Jim Crow. Here’s how it was proved in a number of instances.
CLEVELAND, Ohio—Between 30 and 50 Negro workers, largely women, have been hired at the General Electric plant following insistence of UE that terms of a national agreement against discrimination be put into operation. This plant has been traditionally lily-white.
CHICAGO, Ill.—After demands by UE, the management of the Harvester Tractor Works reached an agreement with the union on no discrimination in upgrading and bidding for open jobs. As a result of a job-posting plan, the union has obtained jobs for a number of Negro workers at various skills such as precision grinding, mill wrights and others.
SOUTH BEND, Ind.—Here UE is engaged in one of its most significant fights against discrimination. The large and important Local 112 was facing dangerous inner disunity.
The reason: some 800 of the local’s 2,000 members are Negro. Justifiable grievances of these workers included failure of the local union leadership to understand and act on such issues as discrimination in hiring against Negro women by the Oliver Plough Co. and rampant Jim Crow policies in restaurants and taverns in the area of the local union office—including the very building where the office is located.
When the UE National Fair Practices committee entered this situation, we had these grievances brought forth clearly and with their full importance.
The result: management has been approached on its hiring practices and, to date, has for the first time at least made promises. The locally organized UE Fair Practices committee is pushing for action as well as promises.
Furthermore, a boycott against the tavern using Jim Crow practices has been instituted and the local union has joined a lawsuit already filed against the restaurant owner for discriminatory practices.
These acts—with indications of more to come—built unity in Local 112. And unity around UE’s progressive policies came just in time to turn back a raid launched on the shop by UAW misleaders who use any disunity that may exist to further their raiding schemes.
This case illustrates UE’s disunity in action.
The program for Negro and minority rights, adopted at our convention last September, was itself a landmark of progress in the American labor movement. Our efforts to put it into effect have clashed head-on with the intensified drive of white supremacists. This drive, contrary to what many people think, is intensifying itself day by day and threatens to wipe out those gains that have been made in the fight for Negro rights.
In spite of the forces of reaction, we have made considerable progress in carrying out the convention decisions and the program of the great Chicago Conference for Negro Rights held a year ago June.
The key planks in the Chicago program, in my opinion, were:
The model contract clause.
An all-out fight for the hiring of Negro workers in lily-white shops.
Apprenticeship and job training opportunities in all trades.
An intensified campaign for upgrading.
A consistent day-by-day fight for the civil rights of the Negro people.
We have conducted campaigns on every one of these planks which have had a significant effect on all our members.
For the Negro worker it has meant a new opportunity to fight for economic equality with effective machinery backed up by the whole union. This has brought forward many new Negro leaders on the General Executive Board, on district and local levels.
To the white worker, the program has brought a greater realization of the devastating effect of Jim Crow and division on all workers.
UE’s participation in the cases of Lt. Gilbert, the Martinsville 7, Willie McGee and the Trenton 6 has further cemented the unity of our Negro and white members in the union’s fight against discrimination.
Freedom, April 1951.
DEARBORN, Mich.—Two giants face each other across the railroad tracks of this Detroit suburb—Ford’s River Rouge plant, the biggest self-contained auto factory in the world, and the world’s largest union local, Local 600, UAW-CIO. Forged from the blood and sweat of thousands of Negro and white workers, Local 600 has survived 10 years of attacks from the company and internal split Today, it stands out as a more militant and more consistent fighter for workers’ rights than its parent body, the International Auto Workers.
Key to its unquestioned position as leader among workers in the auto industry is the unity among its vast Negro membership and an increasing awareness among white members that their problems will never be solved until the Negro is granted full economic, social and political freedom.
Backed by some 60,000 members, President Carl Stellato and other Local 600 officers have in recent weeks:
Supported Sen. Johnson’s peace resolution.
Tossed a bombshell into the nation’s labor scene by inviting John L. Lewis to 600’s 10th anniversary.
Issued a call for a conference of UAW leaders to stem the rising tide of layoffs and speedups.
Backed the petition drive for an FEPC in Detroit.
Action on these issues alone is enough to make Local 600 noteworthy, but it is in integration of Negro workers that the Ford local surpasses the International UAW and points the way to increasing participation of Negroes in the top echelons of labor.
From the days of the bloody battles with company goons, Negroes have been active in Local 600. Many of them who helped break the resistance of Ford’s, last auto company to be organized, are still around, some still holding positions in the local. Others, however, were too militant for both the company and their union, and have been ousted one way or another.
Top-ranking Negro officer in Local 600 is William P. Hood, recording secretary, now serving his fourth term. Other elected officials are Bill Shuford, guide, Clarence Saunders and George La Marque, trustees. Administrative assistant to President Stellato is young Bill Johnson, former Production Foundry Unit Chairman.
Seven of the 35 women on the office staff are Negro women, all of whom have been with Local 600 for at least five years, some as long as 10. Among them are Thelma Rowman, who handled workmen’s compensation for 7 years, and Roxie Simpson, who handles grievance procedure.
The local is set up on a unit basis, one for each of the 17 different departments at the Ford plant; Gear and Axle, Iron Foundry, Pressed Steel, ‘B’ Building, etc. Every unit elects nine officers, and two of them have Negro presidents, Joe Morgan, chairman of the Frame and Cold Heading Unit, and M. Johnson who heads the Foundry Unit. Morgan was elected last April on a broad progressive program of peace, jobs, and unity, the first time a Negro has headed the unit.
Three units have Negro vice-presidents, among them Dave Moore, a veteran 17-year-man at the Rouge, who was elected to the Gear and Axle Unit, and Nelson Davis, chairman of the Foundry’s mammoth picnic. In all but two units, Negroes hold important positions as officers or committeemen.
Director of Local 600’s active FEPC department is James Watts, appointed to the staff recently. An administration assistant to UAW chief Walter Reuther for two years, Watts broke with Reuther at the last convention over the question of Negro representation on the International UAW board to date. To date there are no Negroes in this top policy-making body in the union. Joe Crenshaw is the director of the education department.190
Officers and members all agree that Local 600 is in better position today than ever before to tackle problems confronting auto workers, and all agree that it is the result of hammering out unity among various factions within the organization. Alert now to the growing demands of its Negro membership, 16,000 to 20,000 strong; for “deeds, not words” the local has found that adhering strictly to real trade union principles can produce results.
The world’s biggest union local stands as monument to what men united in common cause can accomplish and is a challenge to what they can accomplish in the future.
Freedom, August 1951.
By Ewart Guinier
Secretary-Treasurer, United Public Workers of America
The U.S. Government is the nation’s biggest Jim Crow employer. Segregation and discrimination still make a mockery of the President’s tongue-in-cheek fair employment practices order. Negroes on the federal payroll generally perform the most menial, low-paid work there is—and the big stick of the loyalty order is poised like the plantation owner’s whip to make sure that nobody gets out of line.
People are getting out of line, though. They are standing up together and demanding equal rights. And wherever the struggle is made, there are the gains to show that organized action is stronger than the whip.
How many Negroes are employed by the U.S.? During the last war the figure rose to something like 16 per cent. Today I would say that it is 10 per cent, or less. Gains made during the New Deal are being taken away and the door closed to further gains except when the most intense campaign is made.
The union decided to tackle one of the sorest spots in this sorry situation—the Bureau of Engraving. These were the conditions: over half of the 6,000 workers were Negroes, but they received only about a quarter of the payroll. Less than half of one per cent held any but menial, unskilled jobs. And by way of salt in the wounds, there were separate toilet facilities and segregated work areas for people doing the same jobs. For several years we waged a fight against discrimination in this bureau. We had the cooperation of most Negro organizations and many unions, and we startled the whole town with our mass picket lines at the Bureau of Engraving and at the White House. We made it clear that the President has the authority to enforce fair employment practices in the federal government.
In January of this year we won a significant and historic victory. For the first time since the Bureau was established in Civil War days, the barriers went down and 17 Negroes were hired to work as apprentice plate printers.
Though Jim Crow rides high in Washington, the most flagrant discrimination is practiced officially by the U.S. Government in the Panama Canal Zone. The double standard set up there for colored and white workers condemns Negroes to degrading conditions.
When the canal was being built, the pattern of discrimination was set with white workers paid in gold and Negro workers in silver. In 1946, when the United Public Workers waged a fight against this arrogant, bloated Jim Crow, wages for “silver” workers were running four and five times lower than those paid “gold” workers on identical jobs.
The same sharp contrast exists in housing, schooling and general living conditions. Recreational facilities are strictly lily-white, and signs at clubhouses, movies, bowling alleys and athletic fields warned “silver” workers to keep out.
The union was able to get the humiliating “gold” and “silver” signs removed and got the minimum wage raised from 12 to 26 cents an hour; a 40-hour week (it was 48 to 54 before); time and a half for overtime; double time for ten paid holidays; wage increases for many “silver” workers, and other improvements.
Wherever the union tried to improve conditions for government workers, we had to tackle the barrier of discrimination first. And just because of this ancient device for exploiting all workers—Jim Crow—the Negro workers were hit most viciously by the loyalty order.
This is particularly true in the Post Office Department, where tens of thousands of Negro workers are employed. Negro postal workers were fired because they belonged to the NAACP or participated in NAACP activities. Any activity aimed at Jim Crow made a person “disloyal.”
White workers, too, got caught in the “loyalty” net when they joined Negroes in the common aim of winning better working conditions. Some of the questions that determined a person’s “loyalty” went like this:
“Have you had any conversations that would lead you to believe (the accused) is rather advanced in his thinking on racial matters?”
“Have any of your neighbors made complaints about having Negroes in your home?”
The United Public Workers has shown the way to break through this pattern. The struggle must be intensified because the repression is getting worse all the time. FREEDOM must begin at home, and the best place to start is in government employment.
Freedom, August 1951.
The Negro membership of the United Auto Workers is fighting mad over the outrageous action of the lily-white international executive board against militant Leland Unit of Local 205 in Detroit. Thirteen plant leaders—12 of them Negro—are expelled while a white administratorship, which candidly calls itself a dictatorship, still sits on the 90 per cent Negro plant.
It was when the bosses announced they were “tired of having Negroes running their plant” that the Reuther people began to cuddle up to this Dixiecrat management of the Allen Industries’ Leland plant.
For ten years since the plant was organized the management had been forced to hand out raises and improve conditions. So they decided (they admitted) to get rid of James Walker, chairman of the plant committee, and his two fellow committeemen. They decided the easiest way to accomplish this was through the notoriously white-supremacist leadership of the international union.
That is just what happened. The company refused to discuss grievances, and the workers called a 45-minute work stoppage in January 1950. All three members of the shop committee were fired and the rest of the workers sent home. They refused to return to work without their committeemen. Three other Allen Industry shops went out in sympathy.
At this point, the president of Allen Industries said later, the three committeemen would have been reinstated if the international had requested it. Instead, the Reuther men joined the company in telegrams instructing the workers to return or lose their jobs. White UAW members paraded with the police before the plant to intimidate the strikers. They finally returned to work.
Later, two of the committeemen were reinstated—but Brother Walker stayed fired and many more were fired for their union activities.
Under the white dictatorship imposed on the plant by the international, no election of officers was allowed; the union contract expired in June, 1950 and the plant has been working without a contract since then. No grievances were processed, workers were speeded up by slap-happy foremen and the firings went on.
With no other way to make their union function for them instead of for the boss, the workers petitioned for a decertification election. It was held in June 1950 and the vote was 279 to 194 for the UAW. It was for this that charges were filed against 19 plant leaders, all Negro but one. Six of the 19 defendants were fired by the company.
The dictatorship has been in force for over a year now, though the UAW constitution provides for only 60 days. The trial was held July 17, with an all-white jury. Seven were expelled from the UAW for life; six were suspended for five years and fined $100 each. And now the international figures it’s in control enough to risk an election in the plant.
Those who have lost their jobs in the industry have long records of activity in the union. Three were members of the executive board of Local 205. Three were women.
The case of the Leland workers will be taken to the next convention of the UAW, in 1952. Meanwhile, Negro members throughout the industry and their white allies are determined to change the brazenly anti-Negro policies of the Reuther administration.
Freedom, September 1951.
“I helped to build a union which enabled sailors to marry and have children and a home just like other workers, instead of being kicked around like bums. For this I earned the enmity of the shipowners and their agents, in and out of the government.”
The mellow, steady voice came from a man who had reached the top position achieved by any Negro in the modern American labor movement and who was now giving his last interview to the American press. Ferdinand Smith was surrounded by a hundred-odd close friends and wellwishers as he waited in New York’s International Airport for the plane that would take him to London. Victim of the current deportation hysteria under which the administration had branded him an “undesirable alien” he had elected to leave the country which had been the scene of his tremendous contributions to the struggle for Negro rights, workers’ unity and peace.
The AP reporter kept prodding. He wanted to know what Smith would do next, how he was going to live. “Ferd” quickly answered that seamen know their way around in the world and that he wasn’t worried about finding a job, and then he went on to say what was in his heart.
“I have no bitterness in leaving,” the Jamaica-born labor leader said, “I have worked and lived among the American people for 33 years in the United States and before that for five years in the Canal Zone. They are as fine as any people in the world, but now they are passing through a stormy night of reaction. This will pass away and I am confident the American people will return their government to the hands of the masses to whom it belongs.”
Paul Robeson and William L. Patterson were among those who shook hands with “Ferd” as he left. There were many of his old buddies from NMU, but not president Joe Curran, who has sanctioned the Coast Guard “loyalty” screening program which has yanked off the ships hundreds of progressive sailors, the majority of them Negro and Puerto Rican.
Among the crowd was a quiet, dignified man, master mariner for 30 years, who was not permitted to sail an American ship until Ferdinand Smith and the NMU led the fight which placed him at the helm of the Booker T. Washington during the anti-fascist war. Recently Capt. Hugh Mulzac had received a notice that he had been “screened” out of the merchant marine.
One of the last things Ferdinand Smith, ex-secretary of the NMU and former member of the executive committee of the CIO, said as he waved goodbye was that he hoped American progressives and trade unionists would wage a real struggle to place Captain Mulzac back on the Booker T. You just knew, as the plane took off, that wherever “Ferd” is there’ll be a struggle for Negro rights.
Freedom, September 1951.
By Frank R. Crosswaith
In 1935, at a delegated conference similar to this, the Negro Labor Committee was born. At that time the organized labor movement of the United States faced one of the most disturbing problems of its life. Our country was then in the midst of that never-to-be-forgotten unemployment period with million of workers moving through the streets of their cities poorly clad and poorly shod, while garment workers and shoemakers were looking for work; millions of workers were sleeping along roadways and on river banks, while millions of carpenters, bricklayers, steelworkers and other construction workers were unable to find employment. Hunger, poverty, want and misery were the daily diet of the average worker. I repeat, this was a most disturbing condition facing the working class and our democratic form of government.
It was then that three things of historic importance occurred. The first was the passage of the immortal Wagner-LaGuardia labor law which gave to labor the right to organize—a right which the Manufacturers’ Association and the Chamber of Commerce had always enjoyed. The second occurrence of historic importance was the organization of the unemployed, which compelled both federal and local governments to become a little more socially enlightened and thus make relief provisions for the unemployed millions of the nation. The third event to occur at that time was the birth of the Negro Labor Committee. Of the three events thus listed, I consider the birth of the Negro Labor Committee to be most significant and fundamental—as its history, when it is written some day by some unbiased historian, will prove.
With labor now enjoying the right to organize, a campaign was started to organize workers, reduce the work day and thus open the door of employment to the unemployed. As this campaign got under way, the responsible leaders of labor soon discovered that in addition to facing the natural hostility of employers they also had to face the antagonism of the millions of Negro workers. This antagonism was the product of experience. Negroes in the world of toil always had to face ignorance, prejudice and discrimination. The Negro was always the last to be hired and the first to be fired. A large number of labor organizations had early established in their constitutions and bylaws provisions which relegated the Negro to the status of an auxiliary worker or denied him membership in their union. This experience drove the masses of Negro workers into the oasis of domestic service and agricultural labor; it made the average Negro workers unsympathetic to the claims and appeals of organized labor, and friendly to the employer’s interests, for it was the employer—in his efforts to meet and overcome the increasingly loud demands of labor for “more pay and less work”—it was the employer who became the friend of the Negro by giving him a job outside a kitchen, a dining room, or operating an elevator. It was the employer who gave him a chance to move out upon the broad industrial plains of the nation and away from those low menial confines of service which the Negro inherited from 245 years of chattel slavery. In addition to the apathy of the Negro worker, we had to face two other obstacles. One was the opposition of the extreme leftists, whose main objective, as we all know, is to use the Negro to advance the ungodly, unmoral and barbaric objectives of Communism.
This then, in brief, was the world in which the Negro Labor Committee was born in 1935. Fortunately for the Negro and fortunately for labor, those of us who were privileged to shape and direct the course of the Committee understood and appreciated our responsibility, thus enabling the Committee to render the Negro and labor a service the value of which only a united and economically emancipated working class can adequately appraise. This duty we modestly place in the lap of the working class of the future.
For the present it is sufficient to state, that as a result of the work and influence of the Negro Labor Committee millions of Negro workers are today an integral part of the organized labor movement of the United States and the world. In many instances, many Negroes today occupy important and responsible posts in their unions, having been chosen for such posts not because of their color, but rather because of their demonstrated ability and devotion to the lofty ideals of labor and labor’s inseparable destiny with the fate of democracy, freedom and justice.
Today, we face a problem equal in importance to those faced by organized labor in 1935, when the Negro Labor Committee was born. The Negro is now a part of the organized labor movement, but many of the problems which have haunted him down through the ages, during and after chattel slavery are still to be met and solved. He can only meet and solve such problems as lynching, segregation, race prejudice, inadequate educational facilities and opportunities, et cetera, if and when organized labor recognizes its common interest with the Negro and through education and organization joins with him to meet and solve them.
Out of this conference can come the machinery and the movement that spell victory for all of us as workers in our desire to justify our birth, justify our common divine origin and common destiny.
Speech presented before the Committee, March 6, 1952. Text furnished by the Negro Labor Committee and published with the Committee’s permission.
Fellow trade-unionists and fellow Americans! First of all permit me to express in behalf of Brother Iushewitz and myself, our sincere and profound thanks, and appreciation to you, for having chosen us here this morning to do the task of co-chairmaning the work of the Negro Labor Committee to be known as Branch #1 affiliated with the Negro Labor Committee, USA.
I am sure, I also speak for Brother Iushewitz, when I say, that whatever it is humanly possible for us to do, to advance the ideas and deals expressed in your action here today we will do it to the best of our ability. Having said that, permit me first to assure you that I am not going to burden you with a prolonged speech. I want to just briefly, express a thought or two to you, so that during the days and months and years ahead, as you return to your separate trade unions or meet with us in the Assembly some of these thoughts I throw out to you today, may be of some value to you. First of all let me assure you, that I have no personal ambition in this matter, none whatsoever.
Over a quarter of a century ago when I shed the uniform of an American sailor and came to live in the City of New York, I saw some things that made a deep imprint upon my mind, and which more than any others have steered the course of my life. One of the things I saw was that the Negro race, the race to which I accidentally belong, was utterly unaware of the economic nature of its problems. In those days, the average Negro felt, that if ever he was to win his rightful place in the United States, the only way open to him to win that place was to be a beggar. Although the son of a painter and the son of a cook, I rejected that idea, because I had long been convinced even as a boy in the Virgin Islands of the United States where I was born, that no group could ever win its rights anywhere in the world, by merely begging for these rights. (Applause)
To get what you deserve you must fight for them, and in fighting for these rights, sacrifices will have to be made; sometimes by individuals and sometimes by large numbers; but in a fight you must make sacrifices. One of the first things I did, in New York City, was to become affiliated with a Union before I even got a job. I later went to school at nights, and among the things I tried to learn was the ability to express myself upon a platform. I don’t know how successful I have been in that respect, I leave the answer to you, (LAUGHTER). But in the course of the years that followed immediately after, I was found speaking on the street corners of New York almost every night, after working all day for $8.00 a week.
Instead of being home with my wife and my children, I was speaking on the street corners; and one of the thoughts I threw out there, on many of those nights—together with A. Philip Randolph and others—were intended to strengthe the economic life-line of the New Negro. Do you remember that term my friends? THE NEW NEGRO! Until that expression was coined by us, America was thinking of the Negro in the terms of yesteryears; thinking of the old-time darky who wanted to beg his way to the top, who wanted to sing a song in order to avoid being lynched or being discriminated against. We coined the expression, the New Negro, and it wasn’t very long before that expression and the thoughts it involved, became the rallying cry of my race throughout the United States. Everyone began talking about the NEW NEGRO. THE NEW NEGRO who recognized that if he is to successfully fight for his rights, his place must be alongside his brother who’s skin may be white but who’s economic needs are exactly those of the Negro. And so we attempted to bring the Negro within the trade-union movement. How successful we have been the unbiased history of America and the history of the world will tell that story, for more eloquently than Frank R. Crosswaith can tell it to here this afternoon. But that we have succeeded, there is no doubt about it.
Today, you have Negroes practically in every union, in every industry in the nation; many of them are occupying important posts in their union, they were chosen for their posts not because of the color of their skins primarily—I hope, but chosen because of their demonstrated devotion and loyalty to the ideals and principles of the organized labor movement of the United States. We have made definite progress. We could have made much more that we did, but unfortunately we didn’t. Upon some other more appropriate occasion I’ll tell you why.
I hope however, that as a result of your action here this afternoon we will learn another lesson; namely, the importance of cooperation. Cooperative thinking and cooperative acting, represent the most dynamic force in human progress. When people can appreciate and understand their common interest the speed of progress is hastened. Do you understand? I hope you do! (Applause)
Early in life, I also learnt another lesson. Let me throw that out to you too. You know life is a rather interesting thing. And when I say life, I am thinking not only of human life, I am thinking of anything, any object that lives. In order for life to progress there must be changes; please don’t forget that. When life—whether it be human or otherwise,—when life can no longer affect changes it dies. Watch a human being, as he leaves his little cradle and he can run and jump and carry on, and climb fences; watch him changing upward through the years; and then he reaches a certain height. Even though he has reached that height and he can go no higher, in order for him not to die he must still affect change. He begins to bend, his hair turns gray, his head is bowed and his back is bent; but he keeps on changing downward until he reaches that point where he can no longer affect change; then he passes out of the picture. This thought that I have just thrown out to you applies to the Negro. That original New Negro that I spoke of earlier has passed away; in his place today stands a NEWER NEGRO. A Negro with the knowledge for instance, that one billion, two hundred million of the world’s population are non-white—may I repeat those figures for you—one billion, two hundred million non-white people in the world as against five hundred million whites. What a difference! But you will note, that the lands and the labor of this one billion, two hundred million have been controlled by a relatively small segment of this five hundred million. THE NEW NEGRO understands that! And he knows, that if he is to correct this age-long injustice to the non-white peoples of the world, he has got to close ranks with the working class of the world and together correct this injustice. To do that, he must plant his feet solidly in the soil of democracy. Because since democracy is regulated by a majority, we can never lose, for we are the majority.
So this NEWER NEGRO which by your conduct here today, you have given some encouragement to,—I hope, he will be able to meet every obstacle in his pathway. I hope we will be able to become so thoroughly and effectively united that neither the Communists nor any other reactionary group, whether of the right or of the left,—will be able to move us from our common objective; and that common objective is, equality for every member of the human race, and justice for the working class of the world. (PROLONGED APPLAUSE)
Copy in possession of the editors.
Action Instituted By Headquarters In Roanoke, Va.
WASHINGTON, D.C. (NNPA)—The United States Supreme Court, in a 6 to 3 decision, ruled last Monday that the courts have power to protect colored railroad workers from loss of their jobs under compulsion of a bargaining agreement, which, to avoid a strike, the railroad made with an exclusively white man’s union.
The ruling, which has the effect of preserving for Negroes the jobs they have held for many years as train porters, came as the result of a suit filed in 1951 at the instance of the Association of Colored Railway Trainmen and Locomotive Firemen of which S. H. Clarke, Roanoke, Va., a brakeman for the Norfolk & Western is president.
Justice Hugo L. Black delivered the opinion in the case of Simon L. Howard, Sr., an employee of the St. Louis, San Francisco Railway Company for nearly 40 years, who brought a class suit on behalf of himself and other train porters of that railroad.
The justices who voted to uphold the decision of the United States Court of Appeals at St. Louis were, in addition to Justice Black, Felix Frankfurter, William O. Douglas, Robert H. Jackson, Harold H. Burton and Tom C. Clark.191
Dissenting were Chief Justice Fred M. Vinson, Stanley F. Reed and Sherman Minton. Justice Minton delivered the dissenting opinion.192
Bargaining agents who enjoy the advantages of the Railway Labor Act’s provisions must execute their trust without lawless invasions of the right of other workers. Justice Black declared, adding:
“We agree with the Court of Appeals that the District Court had jurisdiction to protect these workers from the racial discrimination practiced against them.”
Norfolk Journal and Guide, June 21, 1952.
By Louis Lautier
The class suit, originally brought by Simon L. Howard, Sr., a “train porter” on the St. Louis-San Francisco Railway for nearly forty years and decided favorably to train porters of the Frisco and its subsidiary, the St. Louis-San Francisco & Texas Railway Company, is a part of the continuing fight waged by several colored railway organizations to eliminate racial discrimination in employment in the railway industry.
These organizations are the International Association of Railway Employees and the Association of Colored Railway Trainmen and Locomotive Firemen.
The decision of the United States Supreme Court in the Howard case represents an extension of the doctrine laid down in the cases of Bester Williams, a fireman on the Louisville & Nashville Railroad, and Tom Tunstall, a fireman on the Norfolk Southern Railway.
In these later cases the Supreme Court ruled that the collective bargaining representative under the Railway Labor Act must represent all members of the craft or class without discrimination and cannot use its statutory position to make unlawful discriminations within the craft.
The court in the Howard case extended that doctrine by holding that “The Federal Act thus prohibits bargaining agents it authorizes from using their position and power to destroy colored workers’ jobs in order to bestow them on white workers. And courts can protect those threatened by such an unlawful use of power granted by a federal act.”
The immediate effect of the decision is to save the jobs of some 125 or more train porters employed on the Frisco railroad. The ultimate effect will be the establishments of a broad principle for the use and protection of colored workers against discriminatory practices of lily-white railroad unions.
The fight for protection of colored railroad workers, by the use of legal action, began in 1939 when the Association of Colored Railway Trainmen and Locomotive Firemen and the International Association of Colored Employees commissioned the late Charles H. Houston and Joseph C. Waddy to study the problem in its legal aspects and prosecute suits against the unions and railroad companies for discrimination against colored workers.193
The first case filed, jointly sponsored by the two organizations, was known as Ed. Teague against the Gulf, Mobile and Ohio Railroad. This case was lost in the United States Circuit Court of Appeals.
In 1941 the Steele and Tunstall cases were brought, the Steele case being filed in the state courts of Alabama and the Tunstall case in the Federal District Court for the Eastern District of Virginia. The Steele case was sponsored by the International Association of Railway Employees, and the Tunstall case by the Association of Colored Railway Trainmen.
After these cases were won, the International filed seven suits against southeastern railroads and the Brotherhood of Locomotive Firemen and Enginemen. These cases were all settled within the last few months by injunctions against the Brotherhood and the railroads, restraining them from enforcing an agreement limiting the number of colored firemen to a certain percentage of the total and prohibiting them from barring colored firemen from jobs as helpers on Diesel engines.
In the settlement the brotherhood also agreed that it would voluntarily end percentage agreements and restrictive Diesel engine agreements on railroads in the Southeast where suits had been filed. The Brotherhood also agreed that it would not interfere with the employment of colored firemen by seeking agreements with railroads opposing such employment or by striking or threatening to strike against the carriers.
The Howard case represents a portion of the activities of the Association of Colored Railway Trainmen against the Brotherhood of Railroad Trainmen in an effort to compel the BRT to cease its discriminatory practices.
Among the cases sponsored by the Association for this purpose was the one brought by James Tillman, a train porter on the Frisco, which resulted in the breaking of an agreement, made in 1928 by the BRT and the Frisco. This agreement provided that no colored person would be hired in train, engine and yard service on the Frisco.
The architect of the entire plan to wipe out racial discrimination in employment on the railroads, through court action, was the late Dr. Houston, who, with Mr. Waddy, his law partner, handled all of the precedent-making cases, and since his death the work has been carried on by Mr. Waddy, who argued the Howard case in the Supreme Court.
Norfolk Journal and Guide, June 21, 1952.
By George Johnson
THOMASVILLE, N.C.—When I started at the Thomasville Chair company twenty years ago, I worked ten hours a day for 20 cents an hour. It was a long time before the union came, but when it did everybody in Thomasville knew it. For 17 long weeks in 1946 Negro and white workers in this Jim Crow town walked the picket lines together, ate out of the same soup kitchens and won a strike which established Local 286, United Furniture Workers of America, CIO, as our bargaining agent.
Today we’re out on strike again. This time we’re fighting to keep our union which has won more benefits for the workers at Thomasville Chair in the past six years than the company had granted in all its past history.
For six months we negotiated for a measly five cent wage increase and for six months the company refused to budge. It offered—nothing! Now we’ve been out for 12 weeks and Thomasville Chair has already lost more than the wage increase would have cost them for a year. It seems the company has one aim: to smash our union.
Union Brought Dignity
When the union came in 1946 the average worker at the plant was making about 40 cents an hour. The union has won a wage increase every year except 1951, so that the average wage is now around 90 cents. We now get insurance, sick benefits and paid vacations.
But mostly, the union has won dignity. There was a time when if a foreman didn’t think you were working hard enough and fast enough, he would just walk over and kick you good. If you complained, you lost your job. It was usually the Negro workers who got most of that, but they used to kick the white workers too.
Negro workers in the plant average between 85 and 90 cents an hour tops and as usual do the dirtiest work—in the lumber yard, the filler room and the glue room. My own hands are stained white from having to clean them with strong solutions to get the varnish off. For this, I draw 99 cents an hour.
The big job is to get the white workers at the plant to understand how white supremacy hurts them. For instance, only whites are hired in the higher skilled jobs in the cabinet, machine and upholstery departments. They average around $1.10 an hour. Now this is a little more than the Negro workers get, but it is a lot less than all workers, Negro and white, could get if the discriminatory hiring policy were wiped out and the union’s bargaining strength increased. Compared with a New York upholsterer who makes an average of $2.50 an hour, the Thomasville upholsterer, in his “white-only” job, loses about $1.35 an hour to the bosses pocket and to Jim Crow.
Thomasville Chair works about 1500 men and women; between five and six hundred of them are Negroes. At present the company is trying to keep the plant going with about 350 scabs, and among these you will only find four or five Negroes. In fact, most of the white workers on the picket lines will tell us that if the white workers would stick together like the Negroes are doing, we could make a whole lot of trade union progress in this town.
It wasn’t easy to build a union in a company town like Thomasville, especially a union with Negro and white workers together. The Finch family which owns the plant also owns the bank, most of the land, controls the newspaper and owns most of the houses the workers live in. But the coming of the union changed a lot of things. Even those who aren’t in industry don’t bow and scrape to the Finches as they used to.
That’s why they want to get rid of the union so bad. The company offers the workers a little more money and better jobs if they quit the union. Sometimes the union signs up 150 workers in a month, and the next month maybe 100 of them have been fired. The bosses tell the white workers: “Are you going to join that Negro union? They know, of course, that most of our members and officers are white, but they try to stir up the worst prejudices, to keep the workers divided and the union weak. But still in spite of these things, the union has stuck.
Worked Night and Day
That’s why our strike is so important. It will affect the trade union struggles of 50,000 furniture workers in North Carolina and Virginia. It is a trail blazer in unity of Negro and white workers in Southern unions.
The company has no use for those of us who have fought for decent living wages, and they have tried to intimidate me in every way they know how.
I am just a plain working man who has worked day and night for many years to educate my seven children. Two of my daughters are nurses, my son is a vet and goes to A & T College in Greensboro, and I have another daughter who went to Johnson C. Smith College in Charlotte. I haven’t had much education myself and there must be many things I don’t know, but I figure like this: there is one thing a man has got to have and that is the guts to stand up and fight for himself and his people.
One thing is sure. When this strike is over, the workers are going to be a lot more interested in political issues. They have seen how the elected officials treat their strike. I was one of the men who handed out leaflets asking Negroes to register to vote.
I believe that if we can keep our union strong and build up the voting power of the workers and the Negro people, we can make Thomasville a happy place to live in—a place where folks won’t have to worry about being hungry and living in shacks and not having enough to send their children to school.
That’s the kind of country our union stands for and I hope all the people who read this article will do all they can to help us win it.
Freedom, June 1952.
About a year and a half ago, the National Maritime Union attempted to have one Franklin B. Weaver, the Chief Mate aboard the Isbrandtsen ship Flying Trader removed as “trigger happy”. Weaver instead was made captain of the freighter.
On October 25 of last year, the Alabama-born Captain pumped three bullets into the body of a young Negro seaman. Before he went to his room to get the revolver, Weaver admittedly beat 24-year-old Harvey, with a blackjack and handcuffed him.
The entire unlicensed crew of the Flying Trader walked off the ship following the killing and refused to return with Weaver in command. Although the Captain threatened them and finally logged them as deserters, the men would not budge, and returned to press charges of murder against Weaver.
These charges were later reduced by a grand jury to voluntary manslaughter “in the heat of passion.”
Two lily-white Federal Court juries heard the charges against the burly, six foot, 200 pound Weaver. Both failed to find the Captain guilty. Weaver had pleaded “self-defense” in the shooting of Harvey who weighed 125 pounds and was about five feet six inches tall and handcuffed at the time he was shot.
On June 19, a jury which included a bank vice president and a real estate broker split 8-4 in favor of convicting the captain after 11 hours of deliberation. Weaver was set free for the second and perhaps the last time.
The Isbrandtsen Co. has an especially bad reputation among seamen. Known among seamen as the “Hungry Goose Line” because they are constantly being forced to sue for wages withheld for “disciplinary” reasons, the company has gone openly to war with the union on the Weaver issue.
Throughout the trial defense attorney Mahlon Dickerson tried to show a “conspiracy” of the union against Weaver, and that mutiny was imminent on the part of the union members. Capt. Clayton McLaughlin, operating manager for Isbrandtsen, told reporters that the union would “be the death of the U.S. Merchant Marine” as soon as the Korean War ended.
Constantly, during the last 10-day trial it was repeated by the defense that the captain is absolute master of the ship, and that no land-locked bunch of jurors had the right to judge the actions of a “master” while at sea.
Coast Guard hearings on the possible revocation of Weaver’s license have been suspended pending the outcome of the criminal prosecution. It is doubtful however, if the Coast Guard, busy “screening” militant Negro seamen, will act, should the government declare it will not prosecute.
It is to be noted that Joe Curran of the NMU and the NAACP lashed out at those who would free the Alabama-born killer, Weaver. Walter White said that his organization would press to see justice done, “no matter how many trials it takes,” and Curran stated that “it is highly improbable that an NMU crew can be found that will ship with Capt. Weaver.” Curran also said he would press the Coast Guard to declare Weaver unfit to carry a master’s license, and has asked union members to write to “everyone from Truman on down” to get justice in this case.
The NMU leader has not come out against screening, however, which under its phoney “war emergency” front, threatens to break the entire trade union movement on the sea. and to drive Negro workers off the ships and the waterfront.
Freedom, July 1952.
By Kathryn Cooper
New York—As a child in Edgefield, South Carolina, and later as a young woman in Augusta, Georgia, Fannie Washington wrote plays for her school classes and acted in them. She took part in church programs.
Those were the happy memories she recalls. She also remembers vividly the $3.00-a-week domestic workers in the South in the 1920’s, the working conditions of the tenant farmers. “Wherever I was,” she said, “I always wondered why some people had so much and some had so little.”
“My father died when I was very young. I don’t remember my mother. He was a very religious man, but what I remember most about him was that he was always trying to help other people. After his death an uncle in Augusta, Georgia, reared my sister and me.”
In 1940 Mrs. Washington came to New York to be with her “side-kick,” her older sister, and now instead of just wondering about the great differences in the way people lived, she asked questions and searched for answers.
It wasn’t easy working in the fur industry when she started. Her first job as an operator trimming the inside of fur coats only paid $18.00 a week.
She joined the International Union of Fur and Leather Workers as a rank and a filer. At one of the meetings during elections she was nominated to the Executive Board, and she was elected. There too, she was always asking questions, always wanting to know why. At that time she was the only Negro woman on the Executive Board—and was a member for about 8 years.
In 1948 the secretary-treasurer of Local 64 left the industry and she was appointed to fill out his term.
Learned from Mistakes
“One afternoon,” she said, “one of the officers of the local came into my office and told me that he had suggested my name as financial secretary of Local 64. Not knowing anything about the work, I was a little taken aback.”
He gave her a sketchy outline of her duties and told her that people would help her. “I found out though, that it wasn’t as easy as that. I made mistakes and no one on the committee bothered to help me. It seemed to be their thinking that if you made a mistake—well, you made a mistake. I became involved in the work and made lots of mistakes, but learned from them.”
The former secretary-treasurer of Local 64 did not return and Mrs. Washington was nominated to fill the job—no one ran against her.
Aside from being secretary of the Joint Board of the Fur Workers Union, chairman of the Credit Committee, member of the Board of Directors and trustee of the Pension Fund, Mrs. Washington “in her spare time” is taking a dressmaking course at the Needle Trades High School twice a week.
Supports Menhaden Fishermen
She has been involved in many struggles in her union since 1940 and things have changed for the better for the workers since then. They now have an insurance plan, a pension fund, and better wages. She has been involved in the struggle to upgrade women workers. Today she is working as a finisher in the cleaning section.
“Organized labor is about the best way for any minority group to solve their problems,” she continued. “The unity of workers, Negro and white, is the key to better working conditions.”
Thinking back over her early days in the South, Mrs. Washington is thrilled by the fight being waged by her international union to organize the Menhaden fishermen along the Southern coasts.
“The courageous struggle of these fishermen and their wives for better working conditions is something I’ll long remember—how these women stand with their husbands because they know it means books for their children, better food, improvements in their living conditions. They won’t take ‘No’ for an answer but fight for what is rightfully theirs. All labor should take a lesson from them.”
Mrs. Washington is the mother of a 27-year-old son, who is also employed in the fur industry. She is an active member of Emanuel AME Zion Church in Harlem.
Freedom, May 1953.
CHICAGO—Prices up—wages down! This seems to be the slogan of the International Harvester Company which has set off a strike of some 12,000 farm equipment workers in three Chicago plants. These workers, part of 22,000 members of the Farm Equipment-United Electrical Workers Union which has walked out of International Harvester shops in Illinois, Indiana and Kentucky, are fighting against proposed down-scaling of pay rates which would slice $26 million out of their pay envelopes in the next three years.
Efforts of the company to break the strike by herding scabs on the South-side and in other areas have been to no avail. The Negro people of Chicago are well acquainted with the record of the FE-UE locals in improving the living standards of its members, many of whom are Negroes who are fighting for unsegregated housing in the face of the attacks of organized vandals. Among the union leaders rallying the membership and the people of the Southside in support of the strikers’ reasonable demands is Frank Mingo, vice president of FE-UE Local 101.
Freedom, October 1952.
On October 5, by order of Illinois State’s Attorney John Boyle, Chicago police arrested trade union leader Harold Ward and held him for grand jury investigation on suspicion of murder.
The arrest was immediately declared a frameup by trade union leaders who saw Ward’s arrest as another desperate attempt to break the then six weeks-old solid strike of 30,000 United Farm Equipment and Metal Workers of America against Chicago’s notorious anti-union corporation, the giant International Harvester Company.
William Foster, the murdered man, was a strikebreaker. Early on October 3 he was found in front of his Southside home, brutally beaten to death. For the first time in the memory of Chicagoans the police became interested in bringing to justice the murderers of a Negro. The president of the company where Foster had been crossing picket lines and scabbing against Negro and white workers, offered a $10,000 reward for Foster’s killer.
Jack Burch, Vice-President of FE-UE’s District 11, called the arrest of Ward in connection with the Foster slaying “a rotten frameup engineered by Harvester bosses who know as well as we do that neither Ward nor any member of our Union had anything to do with Foster’s tragic death.”
Ward was born in Tennessee and worked at Harvester since 1944. He is the financial secretary for Local 108, FE-UE. He had been active in the heroic struggle of the Harvester workers to hold solid their strike against the wage-cutting, union-busting activities of International Harvester. The 30-year-old father of two small sons has gained a reputation among his fellow workers as a militant and courageous trade unionist who was never afraid to speak out and act in defense of his Union or his people.
The Ward case is seen as an attempt to revive the most infamous of antilabor traditions in American history. In May, 1886, Chicago police fired on and murdered six workers at the International Harvester Company who were engaged in a strike to win the eight-hour day.
When thousands of AFL workers massed in Haymarket Square to protest the cold-blooded police murder and to further the fight for shorter working hours, eight of their leaders were framed, railroaded through a trial that was a mockery of justice, and eventually four of them were executed by the State of Illinois.
Today International Harvester is one of six giant corporations which dominate the economic life of Chicago. The others are Montgomery Ward, the Armour and Wilson meatpacking companies, U.S. Gypsum Co., and Marshall Field & Co. Together these six industries command assets of $2.1 billion. The Harvester Company itself, is the nation’s leading producer of farm equipment and owns 45% of the industry’s assets. The McCormick family of International Harvester includes Col. Robert McCormick, owner of reactionary Chicago and Washington newspapers and backer of such fascist causes and organizations as American Action and the Crusaders.
Chicago workers see in the fight to free Ward a battle against the return of the anti-labor violence, legal-lynch tactics, and frame-up practices which International Harvester has helped to make infamous in U.S. labor history.
The alliance of the police with company strike breaking was attacked by union officials who declared: “To assist in its dirty work, they (Harvester) have enlisted the aid of State’s Attorney Boyle. It is significant that the State’s Attorney who is so zealously seeking the prosecution of Ward, a Negro militant, is exactly the authority who tried to indict the Negro victims in the Cicero riots of last year.”
In mobilizing its full strength to fight the case the FE-UE leadership called for the support of the entire Negro community of Chicago, and stated: “Harold Ward is innocent of the charges brought against him and a fair trial will result in his acquittal and quick return to stand again with us in demanding decent wages and working conditions for our members.”
Negro communities all over the nation will watch the program of the Ward case and will join in the demand for a fair trial in order to guarantee that the hysteria of 1886 which sent four innocent men to their death will never return.
Freedom, November 1952.
CHICAGO—This is a story of 30,000 hard-working men and women—and their families. It is the story of 10 weeks without a pay check—10 weeks with no money coming in for food and rent and doctor bills, for shoes, rubber boots, or clothing for the kids going back to school.
It could be your story, if you work for a living. And, whatever you do to make ends meet, it concerns you.
Ten weeks ago, 30,000 workers in the mid-West empire of the International Harvester Company went on strike. They are members of the Farm Equipment Workers Union-UE and turn out farm implements and machines in plants at Chicago Rock Falls, and Rock Island, Ill.; Richmond, Ind., and Louisville, Ky.
5,000 Negro Workers
Of the 17,000 strikers who live in the Chicago area, 5,000 are Negroes. And therein lies a special feature of this bitterly contested labor struggle.
International Harvester has used every trick in the book to break the united stand of Negro and white workers. It has sent its goons and other questionable characters into the populous and poor Southside trying to herd scabs to break the strike. It has harassed the wives of strikers with telephone calls, trying to influence them to urge their husbands back to work. It has enlisted the police in violent attacks against the workers, with special attention to Negroes. It has framed a militant strike leader, Harold Ward, on a transparently phony murder charge and is trying to send him to the electric chair.
But still the strikers hold. In the past ten weeks little or nothing has been manufactured in the struck plants. Why? Why do workers, family breadwinners, face the attacks of hostile police and company hired goons—and remain solid for two-and-a-half months?
When the contract with Harvester came up for renewal in May, FE-UE presented a list of demands as a basis for negotiation. The union wanted a 15₵ general wage increase to keep up with the mounting cost of living. It called for an end to speed-up which was wrecking the health and endangering the lives of its members. Other demands included a company-financed health and welfare plan to be administered by the union, special wage increases for skilled workers, improved vacation and holiday provisions, and a guaranteed annual wage.
Could Harvester meet these demands? All signs point to the answer—yes. Last year the company NETTED a profit of $86 million, or three-and-a-half times the $24-1/2 million it coined in 1945, the last year of the war. HI’s president McCaffrey had boosted his own salary at the rate of $7.40 an hour to give himself an annual wage of $196,000.
Yes, Harvester could meet the demands, and the workers deserved the raises. By 1952 they were taking home less real pay than in 1950. High prices and higher taxes accounted for this. And each worker was turning out much more for the company than two years ago. Backbreaking speedup accounted for that, and the record-making profits of the huge corporation added up to more than $2,500 on every worker.
Harvester could actually have raised wages 60₵ an hour last year, paid all taxes, and wound up with double the healthy profits of pre-war years.
But the largest stockholders in Harvester are the McCormicks, notorious for their record of crushing the workers and trying to break their unions.
The management answered the workers’ demands, not with counter-proposals for smaller increases, but with proposals for wage cuts. The company suggested and began to institute a plan for downgrading day work and retiming piece work which amounted to wage cuts of 30₵ to $1.00 an hour.
And that was when, and why, the Harvester workers struck.
Will they hold out with their demands? Everyone who knows the fighting history of the FE-UE union and the militant spirit of its Negro and white members believes that they will.
They will hold out if other unions and organizations in the communities where these workers live realize their stake in the Harvester strike and lend a helping hand.
Recently a man walked into the Southside strike headquarters of the union at 123 East 39th Street and placed $2.00 on the table. He had walked ten blocks from the Ida B. Wells housing project which had been covered that morning with a newspaper telling about the strike and asking for help. He said, “I don’t work at Harvester—I’m a hotel worker. But I know what you men and women are up against, so I want to do my part. If all workers would pitch in with a dollar or two to help you win, it will make it easier for us the next time contract time rolls around in our industries.”194
There are always people coming and going at this busy strike headquarters—four to five hundred a day. The wives of the strikers have organized to put on a children’s Halloween party, solicit food and get the help of their ministers.
Leaders of the union have spoken to the congregations of 15 of the largest Southside churches and to 300 Baptist ministers in conference. They are asking for letters condemning the company’s scab-herding program which is concentrated in the Southside community and aims at breaking the bond of unity between white and Negro workers which has been built up during many years of intense labor struggles. They are asking for sermons on the strike and contributions through special collections and petitions.
Chicago has long been a major center of organized labor strength for tens of thousands of Negro working men and women who came to this city seeking an equal chance to educate their children and live in security and dignity. No single institution has made a greater contribution to the pursuit of that goal than the trade union movement. Much that has been won in recent years is at stake in the International Harvester strike. The 30,000 hard working men and women of FE-UE—and their families—deserve all aid that can be sent to them through their strike headquarters at 123 East 39th Street, Chicago, Ill.
Freedom, November 1952.
CHICAGO, May 1—Walter P. Reuther, president of the United Auto Workers, CIO, said today that an employer might discipline any member of the union who tried to interfere with promotions because of racial discrimination. He made the statement in a telegram to John L. McCaffrey, president of the International Harvester Company, who had informed Mr. Reuther that a “wildcat” strike had occurred in the company’s Memphis, Tenn., plant over the promotion of a Negro to welder on the basis of seniority.
New York Times, May 2, 1953.
When a major trade union sets a target date for ridding its industry of discriminatory practices against Negro workers, that’s big news for the labor movement and for all Negro Americans.
And, even though little attention has been given to the event in the commercial press, this is exactly what the United Packinghouse Workers, CIO did at its First Annual Anti-Discrimination conference in Chicago, October 30, November 1–2.
Almost 400 union workers from shops in all parts of the country enthusiastically supported a resolution which declared: “That the UPWA set as a major goal the complete breaking down by 1954 of all lily-white situations so that every UPWA plant employes minority group members without discrimination.”
The delegates heard reports of victories already won in the union’s battle against Jim Crow. One of the most exciting stories was that of Local 54, District 8, in Fort Worth, Texas, in which the leadership beat back an attempt of a “white-supremacy” rump caucus to prevent removal of a partition in the dining room and of “white” and “Negro” signs on other facilities.
Freedom, October 1953.
The long-standing policy of segregated facilities in all CIO offices, union halls, etc., was restated last week by Pres. Walter P. Reuther.
In a letter to all CIO regional directors and industrial union councils, he recalled correspondence sent them in April 1950 by CIO General Council Arthur J. Goldberg with the expressed approval of the late CIO pres. Philip Murray.195
Goldberg’s letter stated the CIO position that any statute, ordinance or lease “which requires CIO organizations or bodies to practice segregation in any form” is unenforceable.
Reuther wrote that the original statement “represents the continuing policy of the CIO and is as applicable today as it was at the time of its issuance.”
“It continues to have the full support of all CIO officers,” he said.
“Furthermore, this CIO position and policy against segregated facilities in CIO offices and halls applies with equal force and effect to all functions held under the auspices of CIO organizations or bodies.
“I am confident that I can depend upon all CIO regional directors and the officers of all CIO industrial union councils and committees to see to it that the CIO policy against segregation in CIO offices, halls and functions is enforced.”
CIO News, March 1, 1954.
Research Study of 5 Concerns Cites Equal Pay Rates and Lack of Friction
New York Times, May 24, 1954.
By Langston T. Hawley
The smallest proportion of Negro employment found is [in] the apparel industry where only 10 Negroes were employed out of over 400 workers in two apparel manufacturing firms. In sharp contrast, Negro workers make up 40 per cent of the work force in the basic iron and steel industry and 50 per cent in transportation equipment manufacture. [The] table [page 310] presents a summary of the percentage of Negro workers to total employment in the various industries represented by the firms included in the survey.
The figures upon which these percentages are calculated are in some cases the employer’s best estimate and do not represent an actual payroll count. This is particularly true of the figures for 1939. For this reason, a change from 1939 to 1951 of only a few per cent is probably not significant. It should also be pointed out that the nature of the building construction business makes it difficult to give a precise proportion of Negro employment, which will vary considerably according to the character of the particular construction job. The estimate shown here was concurred in by officials of all construction companies interviewed.
Percentage of Negro Employment to Total Employment in 43 Firms, By Industry Group 1939 and 1951
* Includes captive iron and coal mines
** Data not available
Since the figures presented in [this] table are averages, they tend to obscure important variations in the percentage of Negroes employed by the specific firms within the several industry groups. In the food industry, for example, the proportion of Negroes employed varies from 11 per cent in a coffee plant to 63 per cent in a grain and flour mill. Officials of these firms state there is nothing unusual about their proportions of Negro employment to total employment for their specific kinds of business in the Birmingham Area. In the case of two meat packing concerns, one has 20 per cent Negro employment while the other has 40 per cent. This came about during the war when the latter concern increased the employment of Negroes to alleviate a labor shortage and kept all of them on after the war in view of their satisfactory service. The firm with only 20 per cent hired a somewhat larger percentage of white women during the war when pinched for labor.
Again, in the case of firms in the primary metals group there is wide variation. A small jobbing foundry has 90 per cent Negroes comprising its work force, and the president of this company states that this is not at all uncommon for firms of his size (65 employees) in the foundry business in the Birmingham Area. Those firms in the primary metals group operating blast furnaces, rolling mills, and iron ore and coal mines have from one-third to one-half of their work forces made up of Negroes. Other firms making up an important part of the primary metals group manufacture cast-iron pipe, fittings, and industrial valves. These firms have from one-half to two-thirds of their total employment made up of Negro workers. The higher proportion of Negroes in this branch of the primary metals industry is due largely to the importance of foundry work in the manufacturing process.
In the fabricated metals group the proportion of Negro employment to total employment ranges from 6 per cent to 31 per cent for the individual firms surveyed. The firm having only 6 per cent Negroes is a small (150 employees) manufacturer of metal lawn furniture, fire escapes, and stairways. Its work involves a fairly high degree of skill and it has relatively few common labor jobs; also, it has a long tradition of employing only white craftsmen and helpers. In general, each of the firms engaged in manufacturing light, structural steel shapes employs a smaller proportion of Negroes than is the case in the firms of the primary metal group.
As would be expected, wide variations in the number of Negroes employed relative to whites were observed in the transportation and public utility firms in the area. The proportion of Negro employees ranges from 7 per cent in an electric utility company to 44 per cent in the maintenance shop of a common carrier bus company. One of the two major railroads included in the study has 20 per cent Negro employment, and the other 14 per cent. About one-third of the employees of the City of Birmingham’s Water Works Board are Negro, while only 23 per cent are employed in a large gas company where the work of the Negro—the installation and repair of pipe line systems—is very similar. The large proportion of Negroes in the maintenance shop of the bus company is due largely to the heavy use of Negro women in cleaning the interiors of the buses. . . .
The higher proportion of Negroes employed in the food industry is accounted for largely by a meat packing firm of 250 employees which turned to Negroes during the war as a result of a tight labor market and retained the Negroes after the war’s end. In 1939, this firm had 20 per cent Negroes in its work force. It is a unionized plant, paying the same wage rates to Negroes and whites for the same work classifications. No other significant change in the use of Negro workers was found among the firms representing the food industry.
Two companies in the basic iron and steel industry reduced their proportions of Negro employment to total employment during the period 1939 to 1951. In the larger of these firms, the reduction was from 43 per cent to 36 per cent, while the smaller firm’s proportion of Negro employment fell from 54 to 50 per cent. A management official of one of these firms explained the decline in his company on the ground that improved technology, particularly in materials handling equipment, had displaced some Negro workers. No explanation was given by the other firm.
The slightly decreased proportion (from 25 per cent in 1939 to 22 per cent in 1951) of Negro employment in the fabricated metals industry is traceable to three fabricators of structural steel products. These three firms experienced considerable expansion in their total employment from 1939 to 1951. The character of their operations led to a larger expansion of relatively skilled jobs than of unskilled and semiskilled jobs. Since skilled jobs are traditionally filled by white workers, the employment expansion led to a relative decline in their use of Negro workers. This process of expansion was accompanied to some extent by the adoption of mechanical materials handling equipment which tended to hold down an increase in the employment of Negroes that probably would have occurred had such equipment not been available. The proportion of Negroes employed by fabricators of heavier iron and steel products—such as cast-iron pipe—which involve extensive foundry operations, remained remarkably stable during the period.
One large manufacturer of paper products (writing tablets, paper boxes, etc.) employed 30 per cent Negroes in 1939 but only 19 per cent in 1951. This decline in the proportion of Negroes occurred during a period when the company’s total employment expanded 93 per cent. The management of this company offered two principal reasons for this relative decline in the use of Negro workers: 1) the company shifted from hand trucking on its loading dock to gasoline and electric lift trucks, and 2) since the Fair Labor Standards Act requires the company to pay a minimum wage of 75 cents an hour, and there is an adequate supply of white labor willing to work for this rate, the company prefers white workers. The management official interviewed stated that this preference is based on the company’s experience that white workers are better educated, understand instructions more readily, are more reliable, and, in general, are more productive than Negro workers.
Two cases of what may be termed “mass substitution” of white for Negro workers deserve special mention.
In one case a lumber manufacturer employing 235 people in 1951 was found to have had approximately three-quarters of his total employment comprised of Negroes in 1939 but none in 1951. This replacement of Negroes with all white workers was apparently the outgrowth of a labor dispute. An attempt was made to organize the company’s workers, and a strike for recognition ensued. The company refused to recognize the union as bargaining agent and replaced the strikers with other workers. In the course of this replacement none of the Negro workers were taken back and an all-white work force resulted. The management official interviewed in this firm indicated that the reason Negroes were no longer employed is that they are “too susceptible to union organization
The other case involved a coal mining company that employed 300 workers in 1951, about 4 per cent of whom were Negroes. In 1939 this firm employed approximately 600 people of whom about 22 per cent were Negroes. The company operates two mines in the Birmingham Area. The company president attributed the relative decrease in the use of Negro workers to what he believed to be a policy of the union (United Mine Workers of America) on upgrading. This policy as applied to Negroes would broaden the base of Negro job opportunities in and around the mines, and would require upgrading of the Negro to the more skilled jobs traditionally held by white workers.
The result of this union policy, stated the employer, is to create friction between white and Negro workers. He related that in one of the company’s mines, as a direct result of the union policy, the white workers forced segregation upon the company. This segregation took various forms, both within and without the working environment. On one occasion, a deputation of white miners who were members of the local union told the company “point blank” that the whites would no longer work with Negroes. After this experience the company stopped hiring Negroes entirely at one mine, and apparently greatly reduced such hirings at the other mine. At present, the company’s policy is not to hire Negroes in any circumstance which might lead to friction. . . .
On the whole, ignoring relatively minor changes in the proportion of Negroes employed between 1939 and 1951, only three cases were found among the 43 companies surveyed where there was a significant increase in the relative importance of Negro workers in the total work force. On the other hand, eight firms (including the two cases of mass substitution) reported that they were using Negroes in significantly smaller proportions in 1951 than they had in 1939. From the standpoint of the absolute numbers of Negro workers involved, the decreases substantially overshadowed the increases.
In the firms surveyed, the overwhelming proportion of Negro workers was found among the unskilled and semiskilled occupations. With few exceptions these occupations break down into certain basic types of work: common, manual labor jobs, requiring only a few days training time and very little education; journeyman or craft-helper jobs, requiring very little skill and often calling for considerable physical exertion; and machine operations, both heavy and light, requiring at most a few weeks learning time and typically repetitive in nature. With respect to the unskilled jobs, it was found that while they are performed by both white and Negro workers, the latter do the dominant portion of this type of work. In the building construction industry, for example, it was estimated by the management officials interviewed that from 90 to 95 per cent of all common labor is performed by Negroes. Much this same situation exists in the heavy industries which were investigated particularly in the basic steel industry.
Howerver, in the case of semiskilled jobs, such as machine operators, it was found that in most cases both white and Negro workers fill such jobs, and there was no discernible predominance of Negroes in them. This was not true, however, of the semiskilled jobs of packer, mortar mixer, chipper and grinder, garage helper and chauffeur, mule driver, air hammer operator, and tire changer. The Negro was definitely found to be predominant in these occupations.
Relatively few Negroes were found in the skilled and clerical occupations of the companies studied. Less than half—44 per cent—of the companies interviewed had any Negro workers in skilled jobs, and only 9 of the 43 firms indicated that they had Negroes doing some degree of clerical work. No Negro workers were found in skilled occupations in the participating firms in the following industries: textiles, apparel; lumber; transportation equipment manufacture; gas, electric, and water utilities; paper and paper products; cement; and bed springs and mattress manufacture. Only one skilled Negro worker—an oven operator in a bread bakery—was found in the six firms interviewed in the food industry.
Negroes in skilled occupations were found most frequently in coal mining, train and engine service of railroads, foundries, and building construction. A special word of comment is in order about skilled Negro workmen in railroads and building construction. In both of the major railroads included in the study, all of the skilled Negroes found were in train and engine service—that is, were firemen, brakemen or switchmen. These Negroes were all long-service employees, and the officials contacted in both railroads stated that they had not hired Negroes in train and engine service for over twenty years. Thus, skilled Negroes on the railroads are apparently being gradually replaced with whites through the attrition of turnover, principally by retirement.
Officials of the three building construction firms interviewed stated that they rarely employed Negro bricklayers or carpenters. It was their opinion that in the Birmingham Area, Negroes are employed in insignificant numbers—both absolutely and relatively—in these trades. . . .
Langston T. Hawley, “Negro Employment in the Birmingham Area,” Case Study No. 3 Selected Studies of Negro Employment in the South (Washington, D.C.: National Planning Association, 1955), pp. 232–43.
William R. Hood
Keynote Address at the Founding Convention of the National Negro Labor Council, October 27, 1951, Cincinnati, Ohio.
Brothers and Sisters: This is a historic day. On this day, we the delegated representatives of thousands of workers, black and white, dedicate ourselves to the search for a new North Star, the same star that Sojourner Truth, Nat Turner and John Brown saw rise over the city of Cincinnati over a century ago.
We come conscious of the new stage in the Negro people’s surge toward freedom. We come to announce to all America and to the world, that Uncle Tom is dead. “Old Massa” lies in the cold, cold grave. Something new is cooking on the Freedom Train.
We come here today because we are conscious at this hour of a confronting world crisis. We are here because many of our liberties are disappearing in the face of a powerful war economy and grave economic problems face working men and women everywhere. No meeting held anywhere in America at this mid-century point in world history can be more important nor hold more promise for the bright future toward which humanity strives than this convention of our National Negro Labor Council. For here we have gathered the basic forces of human progress; the proud black sons and daughters of labor and our democratic white brothers and sisters whose increasing concern for democracy, equality and peace is America’s bright hope for tomorrow.
We, the Negro working sons and daughters, have come here to Cincinnati to keep faith with our forefathers and mothers who landed right here from the banks of the Ohio River in their dash for freedom from chattel slavery through the Underground Railroad. We come here to pledge ourselves that the fight for economic political and social freedom which they began shall not have been in vain.
Yes, we are here as proud black American working men and women; proud of the right to live, not humiliated any. We are proud, too, because of our democratic white brothers and sisters who have come here; proud because these stanch allies are not afraid to stand shoulder to shoulder with us to fight for that which is right.
The Negro Labor Council is our symbol, the medium of expression of our aims and aspirations. It is the expression of our desire and determination to bring to bear our full weight to help win first-class citizenship for every black man, woman and child in America. We say that these are legitimate aims. We say that these aspirations burn fiercely in the breast of every Negro in America. And we further say that millions of white workers echo our demands for freedom. These white workers recognize in their struggle for Negro rights the prerequisites of their own aspirations for a full life and a guarantee that the rising tide of fascism will not engulf America.
And we say that those whites who call the National Negro Labor Council “subversive” have an ulterior motive. We know them for what they are—the common oppressors of both people, Negro and white. We charge that their false cry of “subversive” is calculated to maintain and extend that condition of common oppression. We say to those whites: “You have never seen your mothers, sisters and daughters turned away from thousands of factory gates, from the airlines, the offices, stores and other places of desirable employment, insulted and driven into the streets many times when they tried to eat in public places-simply because of their color. You have never been terrorized by the mob, shot in cold blood by the police; you have never had your home burned when you moved out of the ghetto into another neighborhood—simply because you were black. You are not denied the franchise; you are not denied credit in banks, denied insurance, jobs and upgrading—because of the pigmentation of your skin. You are not denied union membership and representation; you do not die ten years before most of the people because of these many denials of basic rights.
“Therefore, you who call this National Negro Labor Council ‘subversive’ cannot understand the burning anger of the Negro people, our desire to share the good things our labor has produced for America. You do not understand this So you sit like Walter Winchell, one of our attackers, in the Stork Club in New York and see that great Negro woman artist, Josephine Baker, humiliated and not raise a finger.
“The Negro Labor Council is dedicated to the proposition that these evils shall end and end soon. The world must understand that we intend to build a stronger bond of unity between black and white workers everywhere to strengthen American democracy for all. If this be subversion—make the most of it!”
A most significant event took place in Chicago in June of 1950. Over nine hundred delegates, Negro and white, gathered there to chart a course in the fight for Negro rights. They came from the mines, mills, farms and factories of America. Many of them were leaders in the organized-labor movement: seasoned militant fighters. They voiced the complaints of Negro America.
The delegates were told that as you looked throughout the land you could see Negro men and women standing in long lines before the gates of the industrial plants for jobs, only to be told that no help was wanted—while at the same time white workers were hired. Negro women are denied the right to work in the basic sections of American industry, on the airlines, in the stores and other places. Those who were hired into industry during World War II have for the most part been systematically driven out—often in violation of union contracts. Vast unemployment since the war has struck the Negro community a severe blow.
In thousands of factories throughout the land Negroes were denied upgrading and better job opportunities. Too often the unions did not defend or fight for the right of the Negro workers to be upgraded.
We heard there in Chicago that Negro workers were denied any opportunity to participate in the great number of apprenticeship-training programs either in industry or in government, in such fields as the building trades, machine tools, printing and engraving, and other skilled fields.
We found out there that thousands of lily-white shops exist throughout the land, where no Negro has ever worked.
We discovered that federal, state and city governments maintain a severe policy of Jim Crow discrimination, beginning with the White House and moving on down to the lowest level of municipal government.
Our black brothers and sisters from the South told of unemployment, low wages, wage differentials, Jim Crow unions, peonage, sharecrop robbery and miserable destitution. They described the perpetuation of conditions in twentieth-century America that are cruelly reminiscent of slavery.
Black firemen and brakemen came to tell of the collusive agreements between railroads and the railroad brotherhoods to throw Negroes out of the railroad industry after a hundred years or more, and of the denial of union membership in these unions and no representation. A number of AFL unions were singled out for their policy of exclusion and job “monkey business” as regards black workers. We also learned that the CIO had joined the war crowd of colonial oppression and exploitation and was running fast from its early position of the thirties, when with John L. Lewis at its head it really fought for Negro rights.
Many of the delegates were stunned to hear of the thousands of denials of civil rights in public places in every state in the union. We were saddened and angered when we heard about the frameups of the Martinsville Seven, Willie McGhee, the Trenton Six, and countless other Negroes because they were black and for no other reason. We were horrified to hear of the many police killings of Negroes from New York City to Birmingham, Alabama.
Negro families were still hemmed into the ghettos, charged higher rents, chained by restrictive covenants, mob terror and finally even bombed if they were not lucky or able to move out in time. The rats are given ample opportunity to wreak their damage upon human beings, their destruction through disease and death.
Our delegates made it clear in that 1950 convention that inferior Jim Crow schools are still the policy in the South and Jim Crow quotas in the colleges of the North. The desire of black children for education and a full, useful life is yet a dream unrealized.
Is there any wonder then that this great gathering of the black working sons and daughters of our land said that this oppression can no longer exist in our America? Or is it any wonder that we received the full support of these stalwart democratic white workers present there who truly love democracy and recognize our common, basic unity of interests? So it was that they, in all righteous indignation, gave unto us, the continuators’ organization, a mandate. They said to us: “Go out and build strong the Negro Labor Councils throughout the land. Build them into instruments of democracy, equality and unity.”
They gave unto us the main task of fighting on that front which we knew best—the economic front for jobs, upgrading, for an end to the lily-white shops, for apprenticeship training, government jobs, local and state fair-employment-practices legislation, the nondiscrimination clause in union contracts and finally, with emphasis, the right of Negro women to work anywhere and everywhere.
They gave unto us the mandate to build an organization composed in the main of Negro workers, united and determined to wage an uncompromising struggle against Jim Crow—to build an organization which can unite with white workers who are willing to accept and support our program—to exclude no freedom fighter!
We were directed to build a new type of organization—not an organization to compete with those organizations of the Negro people already at work on many civil rights struggles. The delegates who met at Chicago demanded an organization of Negro workers from a wide variety of industries, organized and unorganized, from the great industrial centers of the North, the urban communities of the South and the farm workers from the great rural areas. Such an organization will encourage Negroes to join unions and urge to organize Negroes. It will call upon the entire Negro people to support labor’s fight. . . .
During the course of our Council building there has been opposition from some of the trade-union leaders, particularly to this convention. They have accused us of attempting dual unionism, and some of them have gone so far as to advise Negro workers not to participate in this convention. To them we say: “Look at the Bill of Particulars, then tell us if it is not true that we are second-class citizens in this land. Negro are still barred from many trade-unions in this country, denied apprenticeship training, upgrading, and refused jobs in many, many places.”
We are not represented in the policy-making bodies of most international unions. We say when the mobs came to Emerald Street in Chicago and to Cicero, Illinois, we did not see the great trade-unions move. Yet, the basic right to live in Cicero was denied, not only to the family of Harvey Clark, but to the Negro people as a whole. We say that we will no longer permit the denial of these basic rights in our country, and are pooling our strength for that purpose. We intend to do it on the basis of cooperation and unity, wherever possible, with the organized labor movement.
We wish to say further that the day has ended when white trade-union leaders or white leaders in any organization may presume to tell Negroes on what basis they shall come together to fight for their rights. Three hundred years has been enough of that. We ask for your cooperation—but we do not ask your permission!
We believe it to be the solemn duty of trade-unions everywhere, as a matter of vital self-interest, to support the Negro workers in their efforts to unite and to play a more powerful role in the fight of the Negro people for first-class citizenship based upon economic, political and social equality. We believe, further, that it is the trade-unions’ duty and right to encourage the white workers to join with and support their Negro brothers and sisters in the achievment of these objectives. . . .
Brothers and sisters! Eloquence is a mighty weapon in the struggle for our just demands. But what is more eloquent than the struggle itself? The big white bosses, the men in Washington, will move far more rapidly when they see millions of us in struggle than when they hear speeches alone.
The Negro Labor Councils are, above all, organizations of struggle. We stand for the unity of all Negro workers, irrespective of union affiliation, organized and unorganized; for the unity of Negro and white workers together; for the unity of Negro workers with the whole Negro people in the common fight for Negro liberation; and for the alliance of the whole Negro people with the organized labor movement—the keystone combination for any kind of democratic progress in our country. . . .
We face a number of grave tasks. We are called upon to chart a course that will win thousands of new job opportunities for Negro men and women, that will convince the organized-labor movement to complete the organization of the South on the basis of equality and nonsegregation, that will help bring the franchise to all the peoples in the South.
We are on the high road to a more democratic America. We are on the way toward breaking the grip of the Dixiecrats and the Northern reactionaries on our national life. I know that as you hammer out a program in these two days you will speed up the Freedom Train; you will give greater spirit and meaning to the Negro labor Councils; you will adopt the battle cry of the great Frederick Douglass—“Without struggle there is no progress.”
We move on, united—and neither man nor beast will turn us back. We will achieve, in our time, for ourselves and for our children, a world of no Jim Crow, of no more “white men’s jobs” and “colored only” schools, a world of freedom, full equality, security and peace. Our task is clearly set forth.
Excerpted from the pamphlet, For These Things We Fight (Detroit, 1951).
Labor Group Votes ’52 March on Washington to Demand National F.E.P.C. Order
Content removed at rightsholder’s request.
New York Times, October 29, 1951.
By William R. Hood
The immediate consideration in the experiences of the black people of America, it seems to me, is that they come head-on daily with the following things: They see the rebirth of the KKK, not only in the South but in the North as well. They see seven Negroes judicially murdered in Richmond, Va., by the state. They see Willie McGee murdered in the same manner. They see trigge happy policemen shooting down Negroes in cold blood in cities throughout the nation. They see the First Amendment of the Constitution being destroyed.
They see men like Ferdinand Smith, William L. Patterson, Dr. W. E. B. DuBois and other Negro fighters for complete liberation of the Negro people, becoming victims of a hysteria conceived in Wall Street and carried out in Washington.
They see an unimpeachable fighter for complete liberation of black people of America and colonial people of the world like Paul Robeson, being put under virtual house arrest, denied a passport to travel abroad and give to the people of the world of his talent.
They see the despicable and unforgiveable Cicero, Ill. incident. They see the authorities there indict the legal counsel for the Clarke as well as others who felt that all people should have the right to the pursuit of happiness. All this they see happening in this America. Therefore it becomes imperative that Negro men and women meet together and devise ways and means of putting a stop to these outrages in order that they can help themselves as well as America.
The convention of the Negro Labor Councils will be unique because its purpose will be primarily to nail down in no uncertain terms a blueprint for the complete liberation of the black people of America; having a clear understanding of the need for a complete break with the old methods and gradualist theory of the past.
We will consciously call upon organized labor, labor unorganized, sharecroppers, professionals, small businessmen, the churches, and all people and organizations of good will to come together to take their position unequivocally on the question of right against wrong.
This convention will be under the leadership of Negro working men and women. It will take into consideration the part that must be played by the Negro masses in the South. It will strike a new note for complete freedom of the Negro people and call for rededication to an all-out struggle to attain that freedom.
The interests of Negro and white workers in America are basically the same They must work to live. They must struggle against the same common enemies—the bosses of industry and of farms and plantations. We will make clear to our white brothers and sisters that it is in the complete freedom of black America if they are to be free themselves. We are certain that starting on this premise the unity of Negro and white workers will be straightened.
While we shall fight for Negro and white unity in America, we are conscious of our international responsibility. The great struggle for Negro liberation is also tied with the struggles of the colonial peoples of the world in their effort to throw off the shackles of foreign domination. We will come to Cincinnati conscious of the fact that the rulers of our country are at this point the leaders of world reaction and the drift toward war and fascism. We will understand that these leaders are the main oppressors of the darker people of the world. And we will understand that it is impossible to carry on a war of oppression and subjugation and at the same time have freedom for the darker people of America and independence for the darker people of the world.
I want to call upon, first the Negro people to come to Cincinnati with a new song in their hearts, with an unshakable determination to see and get freedom, not in the far distant future, but soon. I call upon them to come with the approach that no matter what the cost, we will have freedom—and freedom NOW. I call upon white people of good-will to come with the spirit of joining this over-all struggle.
Freedom, October 1951.
By Viola Harrison
The Freedom Train, jam-packed with fifteen hundred fighters, rolled out of Cincinnati Sunday, Oct. 28, with the National Negro Labor Council well launched and put into working shape. The singing, cheering, determined delegates and observers—spent with their tireless efforts, resteamed the old train’s engine and opened up the throttle to push on up the Freedom Road hewed out by their forefathers.
From the mines, from the mills, from the shops, from offices and schoolrooms, Negro working-class leaders and rank and file workers, organized and unorganized, took their battle posts and girded for action in a nationwide fight not only to attain economic, political and social status equal to white people, but to make America a better place for all people.
This historic two-day conference, the first of its kind, took appropriate notice of the background of its convention city, the most important gateway to freedom on the Underground Railroad of antebellum days. The spirits of Sojourner Truth, Denmark Vesey, Harriet Tubman, Frederick Douglass and John Brown rose again as the hall rang out with robust ayes and nays.
The theme running through the convention, in the words of its chairman, William R. Hood of Detroit, secretary-treasurer of UAW 600, largest single local in the world, was “to build a stronger unity between black and white workers everywhere to strengthen democracy for all.” He reflected the attitude of all present when he defied those who labeled the conference “subversive” before the ink was dry on the sheets of the convention call by crying out, “If this be subversion—make the most of it.”
Freedom, November 1951.
In order to find out what kind of people made the Freedom Train run at the NNLC convention, FREEDOM talked with the delegates. Here are some of the interviews.
“It’s the lack of power, and not just the color of our skin that is the basic problem. The reason I’m sold on the NNLC is that it represents power.”
The man talking in a quiet, husky voice was Asbury Howard, regional director of the Mine, Mill & Smelter Workers Union for Alabama and Mississippi. And all the experiences of Brother Howard’s life have taught him the meaning of power.197
In 1933 he joined the union at the big Muscootia ore mine of the TCI in Bessemer, Ala., and he saw the power of the union transform the mines in that region from hell holes and death pits to places where the worker had a fighting chance to stay alive and eke out a living. Thirteen thousand out of Bessemer’s 22,000 population are Negroes and Brother Howard knows that the reason the steel and ore center is Klan-dominated is fear of the power of the Negro majority. And he knows that the only thing that will stop the Klan is more power, not less.
He is clerk of the Starlight Baptist Church and superintendent of the Sunday school. He is active in the local Masons and V.P. of the Bessemer branch of the NAACP. As president of the Bessemer Voters League he has sparked a major registration drive to increase the number of Negro voters. During the drive every Negro teacher except two have registered, many of them paying $36 in back poll taxes.
“I’m fighting for my freedom. We’ve been slaves or half-slaves all our lives. It’s like living in a dark place where you never see the light. But in the leadership of our own Paul Robeson the sun is beginning to shine. I know now that we’re going to reach the top and have freedom and peace and no discrimination.”
An expression of serene confidence in the face of Mrs. Estelle Holloway as she talked about conditions in the Eastern North Carolina tobacco country—the section where Paul Robeson’s father was born a slave.
“Before the union came,” Mrs. Holloway said, “the bosses were cruel. They’re still cruel, but they can’t tell us, ‘Go home and stay so many days till I call for you!’ like they used to. And even though the women workers make only 78₵ an hour, that’s twice as much as we used to make before we had a union.
“Our big problem now is to win some kind of year-round security. The season in the leaf houses only lasts from August through the middle of November Then the workers have to look for jobs as domestics at $10 or $15 a week. And if we don’t accept any old kind of cheap job offered at the agency, we’re cut off the unemployment compensation.”
Mrs. Holloway is an active member of the St. James Baptist church, a member of the NAACP and a charter member of the Tri-State Negro Labor Council.
Workers were getting 40₵ an hour in the leather factory where Joseph Oliver works when the Int. Fur & Leather Workers Union stepped in in 1941. Now their contract calls for a $1.09 minimum and scores of abuses have been eliminated.
These improvements are largely due to Brother Oliver, who is not only president of the local, but a leading community figure as well. He is a member of the senior choir of the Watchco Methodist Church, chairman of the Sunday school and president of the Methodist Men of the Church. He also finds time to serve as Worshipful Master of his Masonic lodge.
Freedom, November 1951.
By Yvonne Gregory
“Hey daddio! I see you here, man I see you with it.”
“You listen when I tell you, man. Simple is solid here to speak his natural mind.”
Time: Oct. 27, 1951.
Place: Lobby of the Hotel Manse, 1004 Chapel Street, Cincinnati, Ohio.
Persons: Leaders of the founding convention of the National Negro Labor Council.
They came from Cleveland, Birmingham, San Francisco, Chicago, Houston, New York, Detroit, Denver, Louisville, Winston-Salem, Pittsburgh, New Orleans, Seattle, Minneapolis, Buffalo, Jacksonville, St. Louis, Philadelphia and Newark.
One of them was Ernest Thompson, national secretary of the Fair Practices Committee of the United Electrical Workers. The others referred to him warmly and humorously as “Big Train.”
It is always hard to tell how nicknames arise. But it would be a fair guess to assume that Ernest Thompson’s nickname had grown out of the fact that his eyes glowed and his voice deepened when he talked on his favorite theme . . . “the Freedom Train.” Thompson sees the National Negro Labor Council as one of the main pieces of machinery that will get the Freedom Train for the Negro people headed straight down the rails in the complete and final end of Jim Crow.
“Big Train” introduced the keynote speaker, William R. Hood, recording secretary of Ford Local 600, United Automobile Workers, CIO, who came out of the founding convention as first president of the Labor Council. He said:
“The new wind of freedom is blowing from the seven seas . . . it has brought upon the American scene a new Negro, sons and daughters of Labor. This new Negro comes with the song of freedom on his lips, and believe me when I tell you, that Negro is here today with some tried and true allies. And that new Negro just isn’t fooling about where he means to go from here.”
The 1,200 new Negro sons and daughters of Labor leaned forward in pride and wonder as they shared the rare experience of listening to an American trade union leader using the poetry of his people to illustrate and strengthen his message. “Big Train” quoted Paul Lawrence Dunbar’s poem “Frederick Douglass” in full; referred to Dr. W. E. B. DuBois; quoted parts of Sterling Brown’s “Strong Men” and wound up with a reference to Langston Hughes’ “Simple Speaks His Mind.”198
The reading of the Dunbar poem was particularly eloquent. He recited it as though he had been remembering it all his life; waiting for the chance to stand on a platform in Cincinnati, O., as the representative of a new Negro organization dedicated to the fight for full freedom and say the poem which included these words about Frederick Douglass:
“We weep for him, but we have touched his hand,
And felt the magic of his presence nigh,
The current that he sent throught the land,
The kindling spirit of his battle cry.
O’er all that holds us we shall triumph yet,
And place our banner where his hopes were set!
Freedom, November 1951.
By Joseph Reynolds
MEMPHIS, TENN.—I was unable to attend the Negro Labor Council convention in Cincinnati due to my physical condition, but I have read the keynote speeches of Brother Bill Hood, Sister Pearl Laws, Paul Robeson and others and I think they express the real down-to-earth feeling of the Negro masses, especially here in the South.
It is my firm conviction that this conference and its leaders have a job to do in the South now. That is the job which hasn’t been done by these labor leaders who have betrayed and deserted the Negro people’s struggle for freedom in the South, such as the Murrays, the Reuthers, the Bill Greens—and we can by no means overlook the deeds of John L. Lewis, how he has also played his part in deserting the Negro coal miners in the South, who were the first to bleed and die in the mountains of the South to build the union in these mines.
The job that must be done is the job of organizing the unorganized. By this I mean to a great degree the Negro masses. In my opinion the job of building the Negro Labor Councils in the South is more vital today to the whole nation than the birth of the CIO was in 1935–38. I am not attempting to overlook the gains that we made here in that period; but in those days we had to face only the company dicks, city and county officials. Fighting for our rights today, it is the city, county, state and the federal government’s FBI Hitler-like police that we have to face in the South.
These Truman police can’t find the lynchers of the Negro people. They don’t dare to trail the KKK leaders but on the contrary, spend 24 hours a day looking and snooping behind rank-and-file Negroes—and also the whites who dare to speak up for the rights of the Negro people. So this is why organizing the unorganized Negro masses is vital today to the whole nation.
The program calls for hundreds of thousands of jobs in lily-white industries. That’s fine. But let me also state that there in the South Negroes are being kicked out of jobs right and left, and many of them are members of some of these big labor unions, and these big labor leaders and their local lieutenants are doing nothing about it.
Among the millions of Negroes here in the South there are unorganized lumber workers, sharecroppers tenants and small farmers who need an organization of some kind for their security, and they are looking and hoping for a chance to free themselves.
I would say there are at least a million or more domestic workers in the South, and I dare say two-thirds of the workers are Negro women. Among these women are wives, daughters and sisters of steel, coal, railroad and all kinds of Negro workers. Many of these women are members of sharecropper, tenant and small farmer Negro families.
We in the South have been in these founding conventions before. We have heard many big-sounding words from various speakers. But action is what’s going to count today. Action is what is going to win over these would-be slave holders of the Negro people of the South and the working masses of this country
What is to be done from this founding Negro Labor Council that has closed its sessions in Cincinnati, Ohio?
There must be an organizing drive in the South, to do this job of organizing these millions of unorganized Negro people, a drive like that put on in the early days of the CIO in the South.
There should be a Southern organizational director, with finances and manpower known as the organizing committee (a) to build Negro Labor Councils on a city and state basis among existing Negro trade unionists and their white allies, and (b) to organize the unorganized domestic workers, farm labor, share croppers, tenants and small farmers.
These so-called left labor leaders who head these so-called left unions should be called upon by the national leaders and members of this Council to get off the fence and show what side they are on in this fight for Negro rights in their unions and in the South.
They should come together and pool their financial resources behind this Council’s drive to organize the unorganized of the South.
Plans should be made to organize a series of affairs, of Robeson concerts with talent from the South such as speakers, singing groups and soloists taking an active part. Those who say they are interested in helping the cause of free dom of the Negro people should be called on, to give them a chance to put words of sympathy into deeds.
There are many Negro veterans of struggle who are waiting for a chance to come forward and again show their ability in the struggle for freedom, who have been made victims here in the South by the white supremacists in the labor union.
Freedom, December 1951.
COMMITTEE ON UN-AMERICAN ACTIVITIES199 HOUSE OF REPRESENTATIVES
Testimony of Coleman A. Young, Accompanied by His Counsel, George W. Crockett, Jr.
Mr. Wood. Are you represented by counsel, Mr. Young?
Mr. Young. May I get my brief case?
Mr. Wood. Are you represented by counsel?
Mr. Young. I am.
Mr. Crockett. I represent Mr. Young. My name is George W. Crockett, Jr. I am a member of the bar of Michigan and the United States Supreme Court. My office is located in the Cadillac Tower in the city of Detroit. I am appearing as counsel for the witness, Mr. Coleman Young.
Mr. Tavenner. Will you state your full name, please, Mr. Young?
Mr. Young. Coleman A. Young.
Mr. Tavenner. When and where were you born?
Mr. Young. May 24, 1918, Tuscaloosa, Ala.
Mr. Tavenner. Will you tell the committee, please, briefly, what your education training has been?
Mr. Young. I am a high school graduate.
Mr. Tavenner. Do you now reside in Detroit?
Mr. Young. I do.
Mr. Tavenner. How long have you lived in Detroit?
Mr. Young. Approximately 30 years.
Mr. Tavenner. Will you give the committee, please, a general background of your employment record, say, over the past 10 years?
Mr. Young. Well, I came out of high school and I went to work at Ford Motor Co.—that was in 1937—for about a year and a half. I subsequently worked in a dry-cleaning plant; I worked for the United States Veterans’ Administration, at the hospital here; I worked for the post office before I went into the Army. I was discharged from the post office for attempting to organize a union. I went into the Army about a month later. After coming out, I worked for the post office about 2 months. I quit the post office because they refused to give me a leave of absence so that I might work for the union organization, the International Union of United Public Workers; director of program for the Wayne County CIO; State director for the Progressive Party of Michigan; presently, national executive secretary of the National Negro Labor Council.
Mr. Tavenner. What was the last of the employment you had:
Mr. Young. I am national executive secretary of the National Negro Labor Council.
Mr. Young. It is.
Mr. Tavenner. What was the position you mentioned you had with the organization of the CIO?
Mr. Young. Director of organization for the Wayne County CIO Council.
Mr. Tavenner. Over what period of time?
Mr. Young. During the period of 1947 and 1948.
Mr. Tavenner. Mr. Young, I want to state to you in advance of questioning you, that the investigators of the committee have not produced or presented any evidence of Communist Party membership on your part. The purpose in asking you to come here is to inquire into some of the—into the activities of some of the organizations with which you have been connected, to see to what extent, if any, the committee should be interested in them from the standpoint of those manifesting communism. Now, you mentioned—
Mr. Young. Mr. Tavenner, I would like to say this: First of all, I have understood, from official pronouncements of this committee, and yourself, that this is a forum; you call it the highest forum in the country, being that of the Congress of the United States. I have been subpoenaed here. I did not come by my own prerogative.
Mr. Tavenner. I understand.
Mr. Young. I can only state that in being interviewed and being asked questions, that I hope that I will be allowed to react fully to those questions, and not be expected to react only in such a manner that this committee may desire me. In other words, I might have answers you might not like. You called me here to testify; I am prepared to testify, but, I would like to know from you if I shall be allowed to respond to your questions fully and in my own way.
Mr. Tavenner. I have no objection to your answers, if they are responsive to the questions.
Mr. Young. I will respond.
Mr. Tavenner. But I desire to ask you the question which I have asked other witnesses: Are you now a member of the Communist Party?
Mr. Young. I refuse to answer that question, relying upon my rights under the fifth amendment, and, in light of the fact that an answer to such a question, before such a committee, would be, in my opinion, a violation of my rights and privacy of political beliefs and associates, and, further, since I have no purpose of being here as a stool pigeon, I am not prepared to give any information on any of my associates or political thoughts.
Mr. Tavenner. Have you been a member of the Communist Party?
Mr. Young. For the same reason, I refuse to answer that question.
Mr. Tavenner. You told us you were the executive secretary of the National Negro Congress—
Mr. Young. That word is “Negro,” not “Niggra.”
Mr. Tavenner. I said, “Negro.” I think you are mistaken.
Mr. Young. I hope I am. Speak more clearly.
Mr. Wood. I will appreciate it if you will not argue with counsel.
Mr. Young. It isn’t my purpose to argue. As a Negro, I resent the slurring of the name of my race.
Mr. Wood. You are here for the purpose of answering questions.
Mr. Young. In some sections of the country they slur—
Mr. Tavenner. I am sorry. I did not mean to slur it. I was mistaken in referring to your having said you were the executive secretary of the National Negro Congress; but, I will ask you a question, if you were, at any time in the past, executive secretary of the National Negro Congress?
Mr. Tavenner. Your position is that to answer any question with relation to your connection with the National Negro Congress might tend to incriminate you, is that your position?
Mr. Young. The National Negro Congress, as I understand it, has been labeled by not only the Justice Department, but by this committee, which also labeled the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People as subversive, and I don’t intend to discuss any organization that, properly or improperly, has been designated by you or any other committee as subversive.
Mr. Tavenner. Were you, at any time, a field organizer for the National Negro Congress?
Mr. Young. The same answer will apply in regard to the National Negro Congress.
Mr. Tavenner. I understood you to state—you answered a moment ago that this committee had labeled the NAACP as subversive.
Mr. Young. That is correct.
Mr. Tavenner. When was such action taken?
Mr. Young. I refer you to the Negro Yearbook of 1949.
Mr. Tavenner. Can you refer to any record of the committee which has so designated the NAACP?
Mr. Young. I am sure this committee is in possession of its own records. I would suggest a search of those records.
Mr. Tavenner. It is on record? You are sure I have evidence of such designation with regard to the NAACP, a national organization?
Mr. Young. I refer you to—
Mr. Tavenner. There was a local in Hawaii which had some special problem, but, as far as the national organization is concerned, this committee has not so cited it, nor has the Attorney General’s office, in my opinion.
Mr. Young. Was Mr. Rankin ever a member of this committee, Congressman Rankin; I refer to Congressman Rankin. He is the person who designated the NAACP, the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People, as being a subversive organization, and thus preventing them from any early consideration in projects for Negro rights.
Mr. Potter. Mr. Young, Congressman Rankin is not a member of this committee.
Mr. Young. Mr. Potter, Congressman Rankin was one of the foremost members of this committee. It is the same committee, following the same purpose.
Mr. Potter. We are not here to discuss Congressman Rankin. We are here to find out the extent of the Communist activities in this area. You are in a position to help and aid, if you will, but the attitude you are taking is uncooperative to such an investigation.
Mr. Young. I am not here to fight in any un-American activities, because I consider the denial of the right to vote to large numbers of people all over the South un-American, and I consider—
Mr. Potter. I will join you in the same thing, but, at the same time, a member of the Communist Party is a person who carries on un-American activities
Mr. Tavenner. Do you consider the activities of the Communist Part un-American?
Mr. Young. I consider the activities of this committee, as it cites people for allegedly being a Communist, as un-American activities.
Mr. Wood. Just a moment. Your answer is not responsive to the question. He asked if you regarded the activities of the Communist Party as un-American?
Mr. Young. I am not in a position to answer that question.
Mr. Tavenner. Are you acquainted with any of the activities of the Communist Party in the city of Detroit?
Mr. Young. I have made it clear, or sought to make it clear—
Mr. Tavenner. That you might aid the committee, as you suggested awhile ago you would like to do.
Mr. Young. I sought to make it clear that I consider any questions that deal with my political beliefs, or with the beliefs of people I may or may not have been associated with, a violation of my rights under the fifth amendment, and an invasion of my privacy guaranteed me under the first amendment.
Mr. Tavenner. I asked you no question regarding your individual views. I asked if you knew of any activities of the Communist Party in this community, which might be of some assistance to this committee in its investigation of un-American activities. I understood from your statement you would like to help us.
Mr. Potter. I have never heard of anybody stooling in the Boy Scouts.
Mr. Young. I was a member of the organization.
Mr. Potter. I don’t think they are proud of it today.
Mr. Young. I will let the Scouts decide that.
Mr. Potter. I think they would.
Mr. Tavenner. I would like to take you at your word, that you would like to help this committee in its investigation of anything that may be of an un-American character, and one of the things the committee, as I mentioned to you a moment ago, desire you to do is to relate some of the activities of the persons of some organizations with which you have been connected. You are certainly in a position to give that information if you were actually a member of the organization. Now, we are anxious to know about the origin of the organization, of which you are now, I believe, the executive secretary, the National Negro Labor Council.
Mr. Young. I will tell you about my organization.
Mr. Tavenner. I want you to try to go back to the beginning. I have asked you about the National Negro Congress, which you have declined to advise us about, and, I want to ask you, further, whether or not you and a group of others were active in the organization of a city-wide veteran council in January 1946, and if there was any connection of any character between it and the National Negro Congress?
Mr. Young. I refuse to answer that question, taking advantage of the privilege granted me under the fifth amendment. However, if you want to know about the National Negro Labor Council, I will tell you about it.
Mr. Tavenner. We will come to that.
Mr. Young. You are going to tell me about it, is that it?
Mr. Tavenner. No, no, no. Would it not be correct to say that the Veteran’s Council, which was organized in January 1946, was converted into and became the Detroit chapter of the National Negro Congress?
Mr. Young. I have already indicated to you that I have no information for this committee concerning the National Negro Congress. I am willing to discuss my organization, the National Negro Labor Council.
Mr. Wood. Just answer the questions that are asked. Let’s get along with the hearing. He is asking you if it is correct—
Mr. Young. Congressman, you invited me here to testify, and, I intend to testify.
Mr. Wood. I want you to answer the questions as they are asked.
Mr. Young. I will answer them in my own way.
Mr. Wood. There isn’t but one way to answer them, and that’s the right way.
Mr. Young. And, that’s the way you want me to answer it.
Mr. Wood. That is the only truthful way to answer it.
Mr. Young. I am not allowing the committee to put words in my mouth.
Mr. Jackson. The committee might put some words in your mouth that are a great deal better than the ones you are uttering.
Mr. Young. Sir, you have been making lectures for a long time—
Mr. Wood. I am not going to allow you to argue. If you want to answer the question, answer; if you don’t want to answer it, decline. This is not a vaudeville here; this is serious business.
Mr. Young. I regret not being given the opportunity to answer. You said this was going to be a forum. When the Congressman addresses me, I will expect the courtesy to answer the Congressman.
Mr. Jackson. As far as I am concerned, you will have opportunity to answer me at any time I say anything to you.
Mr. Young. You just got through addressing me.
Mr. Jackson. You will have the opportunity to answer any questions I ask.
Mr. Young. Do you have anything to say to me?
Mr. Jackson. I will have something to say to you in due course.
Mr. Young. I will have something to say to you, too.
Mr. Jackson. That is your privilege.
Mr. Tavenner. Were you affiliated, at any time, with an organization known as the United Negro and Allied Veterans of America?
Mr. Young. I refuse to answer that question, taking advantage of the fifth amendment, Mr. Tavenner. You told us, in giving us the background of your record of employment, that you are now the executive secretary of the National Negro Labor Council?
Mr. Tavenner. When was it formed?
Mr. Young. It was formed in Cincinnati, Ohio, formally organized on October 27 and 28 of the past year. That would be 1951.
Mr. Tavenner. Nineteen fifty-one?
Mr. Young. That is right.
Mr. Tavenner. Who is its president?
Mr. Young. President William R. Hood, whom you have also subpenaed.
Mr. Tavenner. Is there any difference in the objectives of the National Negro Labor Council and the National Negro Congress?
Mr. Young. I am prepared to discuss the objectives and the program of the National Negro Labor Council. I am not prepared to discuss the objectives of the National Negro Congress. If you will separate the question, I will answer.
Mr. Tavenner. Why aren’t you prepared? Is it you are not familiar with the objectives of the National Negro Congress? What do you mean, by saying you are not prepared?
Mr. Young. As far as the National Negro Congress is concerned, I have stated my objection under the fifth amendment, as well as the first amendment. I have also indicated to you it isn’t my intention to discuss here any organization labeled by your committee or any other committee as subversive. I have here a copy of the preamble of the National Negro Labor Council, which will explain its objectives, if you want to hear it.
Mr. Tavenner. I would like to have it filed.
Mr. Young. You don’t want to hear it, you want to file it.
Mr. Tavenner. I would like for you to tell me wherein it differs from the National Negro Congress.
Mr. Young. Are you a congressman?
Mr. Tavenner. No, I am not. I had in mind, from the investigation we made, you would know something about the National Negro Congress; in fact, our information has been that you were the field organizer of it, and, if you were, you would be bound to have some knowledge of its objectives, if you worked as an organizer for it.
Mr. Young. If your information comes from stoolpigeons and paid informers you might have any kind of information.
Mr. Wood. Well, let’s get the information from you. Were you or were you not an organizer for it?
Mr. Young. I have stated, and I restate, I refuse to answer any questions concerning the National Negro Congress, relying upon my rights under fifth amendment.
Mr. Tavenner. Wherein does the objectives, purposes of your organization, which you are now executive secretary differ from that organization?
Mr. Young. The purposes of the organization which I am now connected with, and that is the National Negro Labor Council, are as follows:
We, the members of the Negro Labor Council, believe that the struggle of the Negro people for first-class citizenship based on economic, political, and social equality is in vain unless we as Negro workers, along with our white allies, are united to protect our people (Negro) against those forces who continue to deny us full citizenship.
Realizing that the old forms of organizations which were dedicated to the fight for first-class citizenship for Negro people have been unable to bring full economic opportunity for the Negro worker in the factory, the mine, the mill, the office, in government; to stop wanton police killings of Negros throughout the land; to stop mob violence against us; to bring the franchise to our brothers and sisters in the South, and gain our full say in the political life of our country with proper representation in government on all levels; to buy and rent homes everywhere unrestricted; to use the public facilities, restaurants, hotels, and the recreation facilities in town and country, we form the National Negro Labor Council (NNLC), an organization which unites all Negro workers with other suffering minorities and our allies among the white workers, and base ourselves on rank and file control regardless of age, sex, creed, political beliefs, or union affiliation, and pursue at all times a policy of militant struggle to improve our conditions.
We pledge ourselves to labor unitedly for the principles herein set forth, to perpetuate our councils and work concertedly with other organizations that seek improvement for Negro and other oppressed minorities.
We further pledge ourselves to work unitedly with the trade-unions to bring about greater cooperation between all sections of the Negro people and the trade-union movement; to bring the principles of trade-unionism to the Negro workers everywhere; to aid the trade-unions in the great unfinished task of organizing the South on the basis of fraternity, equality, and unity; to further unity between black and white workers everywhere.
Mr. Wood. Now, having read and gotten it into the records, will you answer the question asked you, which is, in what respect does it differ from the National Negro Congress?
Mr. Young. I take it this committee is in possession of information on the program of the National Negro Congress. You are now, as of my having read our preamble, in possession of information on the program of the National Negro Labor Council—
Mr. Wood. You are making a very fine assumption.
Mr. Young. I am sure you are competent to judge the question for yourself.
Mr. Wood. I am asking you for the difference.
Mr. Young. I refuse to answer the question on the basis of the fifth amendment.
Mr. Wood. Do you refuse to answer that question?
Mr. Young. That would apply to any question, that question and any other question that has within it reference to the National Negro Congress.
Mr. Wood. I want an answer. Do you refuse to answer the question asked you?
Mr. Young. Will you repeat what specific question you are talking about?
Mr. Wood. The question asked you.
What is the question? Read the question to him.
(The question was read by official court reporter.)
Mr. Young. As this committee is in possession of a copy—
Mr. Wood. Let’s not assume things.
Mr. Young. I am trying to answer the question, if you will let me.
Mr. Wood. No, you are not. You are trying to evade my question.
Mr. Young. You will have to wait for my answer in order to determine whether I am evading or not. I haven’t finished.
Mr. Wood. You are assuming what you don’t know.
Mr. Young. You are assuming what I am going to say.
Mr. Wood. I want you to answer in what way the preamble you read, of the National Negro Labor Council, differs, if any, in respect to the National Negro Congress.
Mr. Young. I would inform you, also, the word is Negro.
Mr. Wood. I am sorry. If I made a different pronouncement of it, it is due to my inability to use the language any better than I do. I am trying to use it properly.
Mr. Young. It may be due to your southern background.
Mr. Wood. I am not ashamed of my southern background. For your information, out of the 112 Negro votes cast in the last election in the little village from which I come, I got 112 of them. That ought to be a complete answer of that. Now, will you answer the question?
Mr. Young. You are through with it now, is that it?
Mr. Wood. I don’t know.
Mr. Young. I happen to know, in Georgia Negro people are prevented from voting by virtue of terror, intimidation, and lynchings. It is my contention you would not be in Congress today if it were not for the legal restrictions on voting on the part of my people.
Mr. Wood. I happen to know that is a deliberate false statement on your part.
Mr. Young. My statement is on the record.
Mr. Wood. Mine is, too.
Mr. Young. I will stand by my statement.
Mr. Jackson. I suggest that the witness answer the question directed by counsel.
Mr. Wood. Now, will you answer the question asked?
Mr. Young. If you will let me finish my answer, I will.
Mr. Wood. If you will answer the question, I will get a soap box and let you make a speech; if you will just answer the question.
Mr. Young. I will join you on a soap box. You have been doing pretty good in answering other questions. If you have a constitution of the National Negro Congress, I will be glad to read your copy and point out to you what differences exist between the two organizations.
Mr. Wood. Don’t you know, without reading it?
Mr. Young. I have already answered it.
Mr. Wood. Please answer.
Mr. Young. I refuse to answer the question in connection with the National Negro Congress, taking advantage of my rights under the fifth amendment.
Mr. Wood. Are you refusing to answer whether you know what it contains?
Mr. Young. I consider I have answered the question.
Mr. Wood. All right.
Mr. Tavenner. When did the National Negro Congress cease to function, if it did?
Mr. Young. At the risk of being monotonous, I refuse to answer any question referring to or having to do with the National Negro Congress, by reason of the rights under the fifth amendment. However, I am prepared to discuss the National Negro Labor Council.
Mr. Tavenner. Let me ask you, if the National Negro Labor Council is merely a reactivation of the National Negro Congress?
Mr. Young. I will answer you this: The National Negro Labor Council is an organization consisting of Negro trade-unions, in the main, and of white trade-unions, also, who agree with our program, which was formed, as I told you, in Cincinnati, October 27 and 28, of 1951.
Mr. Tavenner. Now, will you answer the question, please?
Mr. Young. The answer to the question is that the National Negro Labor Council is an offshoot of no organization. It is a completely new organization, formed with a new program, a program of bringing together, in the struggle for Negro rights, the organized strength of the Negro people and the trade-union movement; an organization which believes that in order to gain these rights, it is necessary to maintain constant struggle; an organization primarily interested in, among other things, the fight for the ballot for the people in the South, and that includes the State of Georgia, and the State of Virginia, where, I understand, you are from, counsel.
Mr. Wood. Please give us credit for knowing we are from the southern section of the country. I think this committee is familiar with it.
Mr. Young. I am, too, counsel.
Mr. Tavenner. In your answer, you referred to it not being an offshoot of any other organization. My question is whether or not it is, in fact, a reactivation of the National Negro Congress?
Mr. Young. I have indicated to you that, relying on my rights under the fifth amendment, I refuse to answer any question concerning the National Negro Congress.
Mr. Tavenner. Will you advise the committee to what extent, within your knowledge, the Civil Rights Congress in this area has assisted the Communist Party in attainment of any of its objectives?
Mr. Young. I have indicated to you, to this committee, I am no stoolpigeon. I refuse to answer any question concerning organizations labeled as subversive, relying on my rights under the fifth amendment.
Mr. Tavenner. Then, when you stated earlier in your testimony that you would like to help this committee to examine into un-American activities, you meant to put limitations upon that?
Mr. Young. I would say that the committee has put limitations upon an investigation into un-American activities. This committee has failed to investigate the Moore slaying in—
Mr. Wood. Is that your reason for refusing to answer the questions asked you?
Mr. Young. I am ready to point out to this committee, taking for granted you may not know about some of the atrocities that have taken place against the Negro people in this country—
Mr. Wood. I asked, if that is the reason you refuse to answer the questions?
Mr. Young. I merely submit that you investigate these un-American activities.
Mr. Wood. At the moment, we are investigating un-American activities we are asking you about and have been asking you about. Do you plan to answer them
Mr. Young. I consider it an un-American activity to pry into a person’s private thoughts, to pry into a person’s associates; I consider that an un-American activity.
Mr. Young. I am unwilling to engage in un-American activities—
Mr. Wood. Is that your reason?
Mr. Young. My reason has been clearly stated; I rely upon the fifth amendment of the Constitution of the United States.
Mr. Tavenner. Have you been affiliated, in the past, with the Civil Rights Congress?
Mr. Young. I rely upon the fifth amendment of the Constitution of the United States, and refuse to answer that question.
Mr. Tavenner. The committee is informed that various petitions were prepared by the Civil Rights Congress, protesting the indictment of the 12 Communist leaders in New York City, and that you were one of the signers, a signer of one of the petitions. I am not interested, particularly, in whether you were or not. I am more interested in ascertaining the circumstances under which your signature, or that of any person, was obtained. Will you tell us that?
Mr. Young. Sir, I have explained to you my refusal to answer such questions. I think it would be quite foolish on my part, in view of the hysteria stirred up by this committee; in view of the many bills having to do with people’s political association, etc., to indicate to you on any question any information which might amount to testifying against myself. Therefore, under the fifth amendment, I refuse to answer.
Mr. Potter. If there is any hysteria in this country, it is generated by people like yourself, and not by this committee.
Mr. Young. Congressman, neither me or none of my friends were out at this plant the other day brandishing a rope in the face of John Cherveny. I can assure you I have had no part in the hanging or bombing of Negroes in the South. I have not been responsible for firing a person from his job for what I think are his beliefs, or what somebody thinks he believes in, and things of that sort. That is the hysteria that has been swept up by this committee.
Mr. Potter. Today, there are 104,000 casualties in Korea testifying to this fact of hysteria you so blandly mention, which is a cold-blooded conspiracy, which is killing American boys, and, you, as members of the Communist Party of the United States, are just as much a part of the international conspiracy as the Communists in North Korea who are killing men there.
Mr. Young. I see you have on a decoration, and, I will inform you, I am also a veteran of the Armed Forces. I know you did your part. I want you to know I didn’t have any part in sending anybody to Korea.
Mr. Jackson. Do you approve of the action of the United States in Korea?
Mr. Young. I refuse to allow this committee to pry into my personal and private opinions. I got some opinion on it, however.
Mr. Tavenner. Let me see if your opinions have been private in that respect. According to the Daily Worker of July 24, 1950, you signed a statement issued by the Council on African Affairs against the United States’ policy in Korea, is that correct?200
Mr. Young. I refuse to answer any such question, relying upon my rights under the fifth amendment. What was the organization you mentioned?
Mr. Tavenner. Council on African Affairs.
Mr. Young. I would like for the record to show that organization has also been labeled subversive.
Mr. Jackson. Is that positively on the record?
Mr. Young. Very definitely it is.
Mr. Jackson. Let’s make it very certainly a point, it has been labeled subversive, and there will be no doubt about it.
Mr. Wood. It might also, with equal propriety, be injected in the record that the Daily Worker has been labeled as subversive by the Attorney General of the United States.
Mr. Tavenner. May I ask the witness, that prior to January 24, 1950, did you know that the Council on African Affairs had been labeled a Communist organization by the Attorney General of the United States?
Mr. Young. I refuse to answer the question under the fifth amendment.
Mr. Tavenner. Have you attended Communist Party meetings?
Mr. Young. I refuse to answer that question under the fifth amendment.
Mr. Tavenner. I think, you have, from time to time, been interested in political meetings in this area and the area around Detroit, have you not?
Mr. Young. I am interested in political meetings.
Mr. Tavenner. Have you ever been a candidate for office?
Mr. Jackson. What was the verdict of the people in that election?
Mr. Young. The verdict wasn’t as good as your own. I wasn’t elected, if that’s what you mean.
Mr. Tavenner. Did you confer with Pat Toohey, and did you receive support of his organization in your campaign? By organization, I mean, the Communist Party.
Mr. Young. I have indicated I refuse to answer any such questions under the fifth amendment.
Mr. Tavenner. Did you attend a banquet on May 17, 1941, given by the Communist Party of Michigan, to welcome Pat Toohey as the new secretary of the Communist Party of Michigan?
Mr. Young. I refuse to answer any such questions under the fifth amendment.
Mr. Tavenner. Did you attend a meeting in the Mirror Ballroom, 2940 Woodward Avenue, on January 18, 1942, sponsored by the Communist Party of Michigan, and referred to as the Lenin Memorial Meeting and Rally for Victory?
Mr. Young. I refuse to answer any such questions under the fifth amendment.
Mr. Tavenner. I would like to know if you performed any services for the Communist Party, and, if so, how it was obtained, how you were induced to give it, in connection with the appearance in Detroit of Benjamin J. Davis in 1948?
Mr. Young. I refuse to answer any such question, under the privileges of the fifth amendment.
Mr. Tavenner. Didn’t you introduce him at a public meeting on July 27, 1948, at which time he spoke and made the statement “I am proud to be an American, a Negro, and a Communist?”
Mr. Young. For the same reason, I refuse to answer.
Mr. Tavenner. In speaking of un-American activities, which you said you would like to help the committee with, do you think it would be giving aid and comfort to the Communist Party, and assisting them in the attainment of its objectives, if people, with responsible positions in the community such as that which you held at that time, would actively support meetings at which known Communist members, such as Benjamin J. Davis were present, and where it was expected that statements of the character which I read to you would be made?
Mr. Young. Are you asking me a suppositional question? If you are, and want me to suppose, I will. I think that any meeting in which the first Negro councilman ever elected to the office in the State of New York were to attend would be of interest to a great number of Negroes. It would be to the credit of any party if that Negro were elected under the label of that party. That is my supposition in answer to your question.
Mr. Tavenner. Is that regardless of whether or not he was elected on the Communist Party ticket, as a part of the Communist Party movement, if you knew it to be such?
Mr. Young. Well, supposing again, I would think that Negro people would be more interested in what a given candidate’s program might happen to be, and what he was going to do to improve the conditions of Negro people, than any label tagged on to him by such a committee as yourselves and others.
Mr. Tavenner. I am not speaking of the committee. Benjamin J. Davis was an open member of the Communist Party; elected on the Communist Party ticket. He didn’t have to be labeled. He labeled himself. He said, definitely in this meeting—
Mr. Young. Personally, I would affirm any candidate for office by virtue of program on which he ran, and on that basis only; his program and his actions; these are the things which concern me as a voter.
Mr. Tavenner. Therefore, if the Communist Party carried out its avowed objectives, its avowed program of working through mass organization, that is, by selecting groups of people and appealing to the particular items which that group is interested in, and organizing them as a Communist-front organization, because, that’s what those organizations are, you would support such a thing, knowing that it is a Communist-front organization?
Mr. Young. You can—
Mr. Tavenner. Is that the sense and sum and substance of what you told us?
Mr. Young. You can draw the substance and sum you wish from my last answer, but, under the fifth amendment, I am not answering any question dealing with the Communist Party, and, I think, for pretty obvious reasons.
Mr. Tavenner. You state, you would sustain anyone who took a position which was favorable to the particular thing you were interested in?
Mr. Young. When I go in the ballot box, as of now, I have privacy; I vote as I see fit. Are you trying to invade the privacy of my ballot box?
Mr. Tavenner. Not at all.
Mr. Young. I don’t see why you ask these questions.
Mr. Tavenner. It is a very important question.
Mr. Young. You asked me how I vote.
Mr. Tavenner. It is a very important matter to determine to what extent the Communists, through Communist-front organizations, are endeavoring to injure the economics of this area, the religion of this area, the social life of this area, and, in fact, the whole political structure as we know it in this country.
Mr. Young. Well, I leave that to you.
Mr. Tavenner. It is that that we are attempting to get at.
Mr. Young. I leave that to this committee to get at.
Mr. Tavenner. It is that we are asking you to help us with.
Mr. Young. I think I have indicated what my reaction to that is.
Mr. Tavenner. Did you attend a Communist Party meeting held at 2705 Joy Road, on March 18, 1950, in celebration of International Women’s Day?
Mr. Young. I previously indicated my refusal to answer any questions of that nature on the privilege of the fifth amendment.
Mr. Tavenner. Did you attend a meeting of the Communist Party of Michigan on January 8, 1942, at which Pat Toohey, secretary of the Communist Party of Michigan, was a speaker?
Mr. Young. I refuse to answer for the same reason.
Mr. Tavenner. Were you acquainted with Pat Toohey personally?
Mr. Young. I refuse to answer for the same reason.
Mr. Tavenner. Mr. Chairman, I think that is all.
Mr. Jackson. I have several questions, Mr. Chairman. I assume, Mr. Young, that you believe in peace.
Mr. Young. Do you believe in peace?
Mr. Jackson. I do.
Mr. Young. I am for peace, too.
Mr. Jackson. Do you believe that it is possible, in the present conflict, between the Soviet Union and the United States, to work out a just and lasting peace at the conference table?
Mr. Young. I hope that it is.
Mr. Jackson. Do you feel that it is possible for the United States and the Soviet Union to coexist side by side in the same world?
Mr. Young. If you mean by that, do I hope that the United States and the Soviet Union will not go to war, that is the other side of the question.
Mr. Jackson. That is the obverse side. I certainly hope so. Do you believe in a more positive manner that it is possible for the Soviet Union and the United States to exist side by side in a peaceful world?
Mr. Young. I have indicated that I fervently hope that that is possible.
Mr. Jackson. I am sure that we are all in full agreement on that point. However, Mr. Stalin has said that it is inconceivable that the Soviet Union and the United States shall long exist side by side in the same world. I think that is one of the very many clear warnings that we have had as to the ultimate goal of communism. Implementation of that Communist policy is underway today on a dozen different fronts. Some of it is in the Armed Forces, some of it economic, some of it political, and some of it social. I have frequently expressed the opinion and I express it again, that I feel that anyone who takes up cudgels of the Communist Party today or lends any aid and assistance to the Communist Party in this country, in the light of what has developed over the course of the past 2 or 3 years, is in effect wielding a bayonet as efficiently as a Communist soldier in Korea is. Is there any portion of that with which you agree?201
Mr. Young. I will say that I am taking up the cudgel for the rights for full equality now and not 5 years from now, for my people. These are the cudgels that I am taking up. I don’t know when you say “anybody” broadly whether you are inferring me or anything else.
Mr. Jackson. I am not inferring anything. I am asking your opinion on that particular statement. As far as the war against fascism is concerned there has been more sacrifice made by the people probably than by the majority of the witnesses who have appeared before the committee and refused to answer on the grounds of the fifth amendment. Congressman Potter has made a tremendous sacrifice in the fight against fascism.
Mr. Young. The fight is still on.
Mr. Jackson. We have acknowledged that out in California. The people—
Mr. Young. Some of the victims of this committee—
Mr. Jackson. The people of your race have every privilege of the franchise. I do not think you can attack California or the California Member on that basis.
Mr. Young. Can I say something on that?
Mr. Jackson. Yes.
Mr. Young. Our San Francisco council, and we are a national organization, the National Negro Labor Council, just one month ago was successful in breaking down the Jim Crow hiring practices of the T System Street Railway that exists in San Francisco. That company prior to that time discriminated against Negroes as bus drivers and also within the same month they were successful, after a long fight, in breaking down the discrimination that Sears Roebuck, the company held against Negro saleswomen. You can’t tell me that Jim Crow doesn’t exist in California. There is a whole lot wrong with California that has got to be straightened out.
Mr. Jackson. You said that there is a whole lot wrong with all the world.
Mr. Young. I am interested in the United States and not the whole world.
Mr. Jackson. Let us not lose freedom—
Mr. Young. That is the point, Mr. Jackson, I am fighting for freedom myself.
Mr. Jackson. So am I. Let us not lose individual freedom and human dignity by sacrificing it to an order of things which has filled concentration camps to overflowing. If you think of the lot of the Negro who have in eighty-some years come forward to a much better position—
Mr. Young. Mr. Jackson, we are not going to wait 80 more years, I will tell you that.
Mr. Jackson. Neither are the Communists. They say they are going to overthrow the Government by force and violence and effect all the changes immediately.
Mr. Young. If you are telling me to wait 80 years, I will tell you I am not prepared to wait and neither are the Negroes.
Mr. Jackson. Neither is the Communist Party.
Mr. Young. I am speaking for the Negro people and for myself. Are you speaking for the Communist Party?
Mr. Jackson. I am speaking of the Communist Party.
Mr. Young. I thought you were speaking for the Communist Party.
Mr. Jackson. No. I think there are many in this room who are better qualified to speak for the Communist Party than I am. Mr. Chairman, I have no further questions.
Mr. Wood. Mr. Potter?
Mr. Potter. Mr. Young, I believe in your statement that you said that you were in the service fighting fascism during the last war.
Mr. Young. That is right.
Mr. Potter. Then it is proper to assume that you are opposed to totalitarianism in any form, as I am.
Mr. Young. I fought and I was in the last war, Congressman, that is correct, as a Negro officer in the Air Corps. I was arrested and placed under arrest and held in quarters for 3 days in your country because I sought to get a cup of coffee in a United States Officers Club that was restricted for white officers only. That is my experience in the United States Army.
Mr. Potter. Let me say this, I have the highest admiration, yes, the highest admiration for the service that was performed by Negro soldiers during the last war. They performed brilliantly.
Mr. Young. I am sure the Negro soldiers appreciate your admiration, Mr. Potter.
Mr. Potter. At the same time, while I am just as much opposed to nazism and fascism as you are, I am opposed to totalitarianism in any form. As you well know the Communist International as dictated from Soviet Russia is probably the most stringent form of totalitarian government in the world today. In case, and God forbid, that it ever happens, but in case the Soviet Union should attack the United States would you serve as readily to defend our country in case of such eventuality as you did during the last war?
Mr. Young. As I told you, Congressman, nobody has had to question the patriotism, the military valor of the Negro people. We have fought in every war.
Mr. Potter. I am not talking about the Negro people, I am talking about you.
Mr. Young. I am coming to me. I am a part of the Negro people. I fought in the last war and I would unhesitatingly take up arms against anybody that attacks this country. In the same manner I am now in process of fighting against what I consider to be attacks and discrimination against my people. I am fighting against un-American activities such as lynchings and denial of the vote. I am dedicated to that fight and I don’t think I have to apologize or explain it to anybody, my position on that.
Mr. Potter. Mr. Young, you have many, many groups in this country that have the same purpose as what you are sponsoring here. Let me tell you this, the thing that you claim is your objective will not be accomplished by men like yourself.
Mr. Young. That is your opinion.
Mr. Potter. Absolutely that is my opinion and that is all.
Mr. Wood. Are there any further questions, Mr. Counsel?
Mr. Tavenner. I have one further question, Mr. Chairman. Have you at any time been chairman or in any other way connected with the Veterans’ Affairs Committee of the Communist Party?
Mr. Young. I refuse to answer that or any similar question under my privileges under the fifth amendment.
Mr. Tavenner. I have no further questions.
Mr. Wood. Is there any reason why the witness should not be excused from further attendance before the committee?
Mr. Tavenner. No, sir.
Mr. Wood. Committee will stand in recess for 15 minutes and the witness is excused.
(The witness was excused.)
(A short recess was taken.)
Mr. Wood. Let us have order, please. Are you ready to proceed, Mr. Counsel?
Mr. Tavenner. Yes. I would like to call Mr. William R. Hood.
Mr. Wood. Will you raise your right hand and be sworn?
Mr. Hood. Yes.
Mr. Wood. Do you solemnly swear that the evidence you give this subcommittee will be the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth, so help you God?
Mr. Hood. Yes.
TESTIMONY OF WILLIAM R. HOOD, ACCOMPANIED BY HIS COUNSEL, ERNEST GOODMAN
Mr. Wood. Are you represented by counsel, Mr. Hood?
Mr. Hood. I am.
Mr. Wood. Will counsel please identify himself for the record?
Mr. Goodman. I am Ernest Goodman of the Cadillac Tower, Detroit, Mich.
Mr. Tavenner. What is your name, please?
Mr. Hood. My name is William R. Hood.
Mr. Tavenner. When and where were you born, Mr. Hood?
Mr. Hood. I was born in 1910, but I categorically refuse to tell you where I was born. My father and mother are still in Georgia. I will write the name to the committee. My uncle was killed by a mob. I don’t want them persecuted. I talked with my mother already and the hysteria created here in this Georgia city—with my father in business and my sister a school teacher in Georgia, I don’t want them persecuted or to have reprisals as the result of my behavior in the city of Detroit.
Mr. Tavenner. How long have you lived in Detroit?
Mr. Hood. I came to Detroit in 1942.
Mr. Hood. I traveled for a life insurance company in the State of Georgia.
Mr. Tavenner. I meant here in the State of Michigan.
Mr. Hood. I worked at Chevrolet Gear & Axle, I think it was a short period in 1942 and I left because of discriminatory practices. They wouldn’t promote or upgrade me. I was hired by the Ford Motor Car Co., January 26, 1943.
Mr. Tavenner. And you have been working there since?
Mr. Hood. I have been working for the Ford Motor Car Co. with the exception of the time I have been the representative and recording secretary of the largest union in the world, the UAW-CIO, Ford local 600.
Mr. Tavenner. During what period of time did you occupy that position?
Mr. Hood. I have occupied that position for 4 years and will be running for my fifth term in office this coming June.
Mr. Tavenner. I am sorry, I did not get the beginning of your service.
Mr. Hood. I was elected recording secretary of local 600 4 years ago. I hope I will be elected for the fifth time this June in spite of this committee.
Mr. Tavenner. The Daily Worker of September 1, 1951, carries an article on page 1 to the effect that you spoke in New York City on behalf of Louis Weinstock who had been indicted under the Smith Act. Is it correct that you did speak in behalf of Louis Weinstock at that time?
Mr. Hood. I refuse to answer about my appearance in New York in behalf of Mr. Weinstock under the privileges of the fifth amendment; however, I might tell you that I am very sympathetic toward minority people and other people that are kicked around in this Nation.
Mr. Tavenner. Were you sympathetic to Mr. Weinstock, who was charged, under the Smith Act, with advocating the use of force and violence in the overthrow of the Government of this country?202
Mr. Hood. I do not advocate the overthrow of the Government by force and violence. The methods and approaches used by the Government in trying to arrive at certain conclusions—I refuse to answer in respect to Mr. Weinstock on the basis of the privileges granted me under the fifth amendment.
Mr. Tavenner. Did Mr. Weinstock live in Detroit at any time?
Mr. Hood. I refuse to answer that question on the basis of the immunities which I have under the fifth amendment.
Mr. Tavenner. Did you know on September 12, 1951, that Louis Weinstock had been a functionary of the Communist Party for a number of years?
Mr. Hood. I refuse to answer any questions similar to that in respect to any individual’s participation in anything, under the fifth amendment.
Mr. Tavenner. You spoke of having sympathy, as I understand it, for Weinstock?
Mr. Hood. I didn’t say I had sympathy for Weinstock. I said I have sympathy for persecuted people in America and all over the world.
Mr. Tavenner. Did you consider that Weinstock was being persecuted?
Mr. Hood. I refuse to answer any question with respect to Weinstock under the immunities of the fifth amendment.
Mr. Tavenner. According to the Daily Worker of November 19, 1951, page 2, you were reported as being among the speakers at the Twentieth Anniversary National Conference of the American Committee for the Protection of the Foreign Born. Did you make such an address on that occasion?
Mr. Hood. I refuse to testify to this committee about any speeches I made other than those speeches that I made to my activity in local 600 as a functionary of the National Negro Labor Council for which I thought I was here, according to the press releases, anyway, yesterday.
Mr. Tavenner. Are you willing to tell the committee whether or not you were approached, and if so by whom, to assist in the meeting that I referred to, the American Committee for the Protection of the Foreign Born?
Mr. Hood. I think it logically follows that the question asked me now would be refused on the basis of my privileges and on the basis of your first question—on the basis of the privileges granted me under the Constitution of the United States and the fifth amendment.
Mr. Tavenner. Do you refuse to answer?
Mr. Hood. I refuse to answer and I so indicated in my remark. Perhaps you didn’t hear me.
Mr. Tavenner. Will you tell the committee whether Abner W. Berry, to your knowledge, was active in the work of the American Committee for the Protection of the Foreign Born or at least that branch of it which was in the area of Detroit?
Mr. Hood. I refuse to answer. I could say I don’t know but I refuse to answer on the basis of the privileges granted me under the fifth amendment.
Mr. Tavenner. Did I understand you to say to begin with that you did not know?
Mr. Hood. I am not going to use it—I don’t know. I don’t. I said under the fifth amendment.
Mr. Tavenner. Privately you are telling me you do not know but for the record you will not answer.
Mr. Hood. I say for the record that that question—I don’t know what you are trying to lead it into. But I have certain privileges which I will clothe myself with on the basis of the experiences that I have had of this committee many of which are very, very penetrating to my heart, for example, calling a Negro in the Congress of the United States a black s—of-a-b—. I have nothing but utter contempt for a group like that.
Mr. Tavenner. Do you consider that that is in any way responsive to any question that I asked you? Are you not trying deliberately to go beyond the inquiry of this committee for the purpose of creating a scene? Is that your purpose?
Mr. Hood. I would like very much for the committee to categorically understand that the line of questioning you have given me and my answers are certainly predicated on some of my experiences in America which I think this committee should be cognizant of and perfectly willing to do something about. There is something happening in America which evidently you do not know about which is un-American.
Mr. Tavenner. Then you are not willing to give this committee any information relating to the subject of this inquiry, which is communism in Detroit?
Mr. Hood. You ask me your questions and I will decide at that time whether I will answer.
Mr. Tavenner. I have asked you a question.
Mr. Hood. What is the question?
Mr. Tavenner. Did Abner Berry—
Mr. Hood. I refuse to answer the question.
Mr. Tavenner. Let me finish the question
Mr. Hood. You have already asked it and now my mind is refreshed.
Mr. Tavenner. Your mind is refreshed?
Mr. Hood. Yes.
Mr. Tavenner. What is your decision?
Mr. Hood. My decision is that on the question of Abner Berry with respect to some civil rights outfit in Detroit, I refuse to answer.
Mr. Potter. Do you know the gentleman?
Mr. Hood. I refuse to answer whether I know Abner Berry under my privileges, logically concluding that you will go into a million things.
Mr. Potter. When the question was first asked you, you said, on the side, “I don’t know the man.”
Mr. Hood. I didn’t say anything of that nature. If you ask me whether I said it, I think I am intelligent enough to answer you.
Mr. Tavenner. Let’s get the record clear, do you know him.
Mr. Hood. I refuse to answer for the privileges that I have. I told you I am no stool pigeon, and just like Mr. Young told you, if you know that I know him let the record show it.
Mr. Tavenner. Is that the basis for your answer?
Mr. Hood. My privileges under the fifth amendment.
Mr. Potter. But knowing this gentleman, do you feel that might tend to incriminate you?
Mr. Hood. I am clothed with certain privileges. I have the prerogative to call on them when I so desire under the amendment, which evidently the framers of the Constitution making this amendment certainly figured at some time under tyrannical and hysterical conditions a person would use them.
Mr. Potter. If you do not know this gentleman then certainly there will be nothing incriminating in answering that question.
Mr. Hood. The question of conclusions is left to me. I am here as the witness and not you.
Mr. Hood. I refuse to answer. I am not debating and I so indicated in my previous statement that I made, Congressman Potter.
Mr. Potter. I will not argue. That is all right. I am a very tolerant man.
Mr. Hood. So am I tolerant. All in spite of what has been heaped on me.
Mr. Potter. There are many people who have had adversities.
Mr. Hood. Not as many as the Negro people in America.
Mr. Potter. I have nothing further.
Mr. Tavenner. According to the Michigan Worker, page 10, May 21, 1950, you were one of those who protested the prosecution of Eugene Dennis, according to our information. Is that correct?
Mr. Hood. I refuse to answer any questions with respect to Eugene Dennis.
Mr. Tavenner. Why?
Mr. Hood. Under the privileges of the fifth amendment, which I have aforementioned. If it is not monotonous I will tell you every time. I said “aforementioned” for the conservation of time.
Mr. Tavenner. You are reported having been a sponsor of the Mid-Century Conference for Peace held in Detroit in May 1950, is that correct?
Mr. Hood. I refuse to answer that question under the fifth amendment.
Mr. Tavenner. Let me explain, before you give your final answer, I am interested in knowing the circumstances under which your support of that matter was obtained if it was obtained. Does that change your answer?
Mr. Hood. I don’t think it would, based upon my knowledge of this committee. I don’t think it would change it, counsel.
Mr. Tavenner. As the recording secretary of the CIO, Local 600, UAW—I seem to have it backwards—were you required to sign a non-Communist affidavit?
Mr. Hood. I was, counsel.
Mr. Tavenner. Did you sign it?
Mr. Hood. I did, sir, for four consecutive years. I have been elected and I hope to sign it again. I hope I will be elected.
Mr. Tavenner. In view of that, may I ask whether at the time you signed the affidavit you were a member of the Communist Party?
Mr. Hood. I was not a member of the Communist Party.
Mr. Tavenner. Have you been a member at any time since the time you first signed that?
Mr. Hood. I have not been a member of the Communist Party from the time I first signed it.
Mr. Tavenner. The committee has information indicating that in 1947 you were issued a 1947 card, No. 68126 of the Communist Party.
Mr. Hood. It is a damned lie.
Mr. Tavenner. Have you ever been a member of the Communist Party?
Mr. Hood. I have already answered that question. As a Negro-American, based upon this committee’s action, I refuse to testify about my past action in respect to the question that you asked me, under the fifth amendment. That is the answer.
Mr. Tavenner. I do not understand your answer. Have you ever been a member of the Communist Party?
Mr. Hood. I told you I refused as a Negro American particularly for reasons of my own. I refuse to answer that question under the fifth amendment. I refuse to answer.
Mr. Tavenner. When you say you refuse to answer for reasons of your own, to what are you referring? Are you referring to the fifth amendment or some other reason?
Mr. Hood. Counsel, will you please phrase your question again? Will you repeat the question?
Mr. Tavenner. Will you read the question?
(The question was read by the official court reporter.)
Mr. Hood. I am referring to the fifth amendment. I am not a lawyer but I said the fifth amendment. These are my own reasons.
Mr. Tavenner. Then if I understand your testimony correctly, you denied that you have been a member of the Communist Party at any time within the past 4 years, which is the period of time you have been the recording secretary of the UAW but you refuse to answer whether or not you have ever been a member of the Communist Party, is that your testimony?
Mr. Hood. I refuse to answer.
Mr. Goodman. Just one moment, please.
Mr. Hood. I refuse to answer any question as to whether or not I have been a member of the Communist Party previous to 1947.
Mr. Wood. In view of the fact that the witness has testified that he was not a member of the Communist Party from 1947 to the present time, this Chair holds that the question as to whether or not he has ever been a member of the Communist Party is pertinent and directs the witness to answer the question.
Mr. Hood. I refuse to answer the question under the immunities of the fifth amendment.
Mr. Tavenner. Mr. Hood, according to the Daily Worker of October 23, 1951, page 3, you are said to have been a sponsor of a dinner at 13 Astor Place, New York City, to be given on October 26, 1951, for the defense of Dr. W. E. B. DuBois and sponsored by the trade-union committee to defend Dr. W. E. B. DuBois. If it is true that you were one of the sponsors of that dinner, I would like to know how your sponsorship was obtained.
Mr. Hood. I refuse to answer under the privileges of the fifth amendment.
Mr. Tavenner. The committee is also informed through notices in the Daily Worker of December 5, 1951, on page 2 and in the same paper of September 10, 1951, page 3, that you were scheduled as a speaker at a rally to be held in St. Nicholas Arena in New York City on September 10, 1951, for the repeal of the Smith Act. Do you recall whether or not you spoke on such occasion?
Mr. Hood. I refuse to answer under the fifth amendment.
Mr. Tavenner. Mr. Hood, the Washington, D.C., Evening Star of October 30, 1951, on page 7, carried a paid advertisement which was an open letter to J. Howard McGrath, Attorney General of the United States, protesting the jailing of four trustees of the bail fund of the Civil Rights Congress. Your name appears as one of the signers to that open letter. Will you tell the committee who solicited your signature and what interest was involved in soliciting your signature, if it was so obtained?203
Mr. Hood. I refuse to answer under the privileges of the fifth amendment.
Mr. Tavenner. Will you tell the committee what you know, if anything, regarding the bail fund plan for use of members of the Communist Party which existed within the Civil Rights Congress or any other group?
Mr. Hood. The bail right fund?
Mr. Tavenner. Yes, the bail fund.
Mr. Hood. What is that?
Mr. Tavenner. According to the paid advertisement from which it appears that you were a signer, a protest was made regarding the jailing of the trustees of the bail fund of the Civil Rights Congress. I am asking you now that you tell us what you know about the use of bail funds by the Civil Rights Congress. If I have not made it plain, I will break it down.
Mr. Hood. I think I understand your question.
Mr. Tavenner. I will break it down a little more if you would like.
Mr. Hood. There is no necessity for it. I refuse to answer it on the basis of the immunities of the fifth amendment.
Mr. Tavenner. I have no further questions, Mr. Chairman.
Mr. Jackson. I have no questions.
Mr. Potter. No questions.
Mr. Wood. The witness is excused from further attendance and a recess will be taken until 2 o’clock.
(The witness was excused.)
(Whereupon, at 12:30 p.m., the hearing was recessed until 2 p.m. this same day.
U.S. House, Committee on Un-American Activities. Communism in the Detroit Area—Part I. 82nd Cong. 2d sess. (Washington, D.C.: Government Printing Office, 1952), pp. 2878–98.
75 Anti-Communist Unions Form Committee to Improve Lot of Individual Workers
New York Times, March 2, 1952.
My re-election as recording secretary of Local 600, UAW-CIO, together with the re-election of my fellow-officers, Stellato, Rice and Grant, in the face of unprecedented attacks by the un-American Activities Committee with the open collusion of UAW President Walter P. Reuther, who attempted to seize our local by placing us under an administrator, must be viewed as a resounding endorsement by the Ford workers of our progressive program of unity and militant action.
Local 600’s resolute, consistent fight for Negro and white unity and our official support of the National Negro Labor Council were among the primary reasons the enemies of democracy felt it necessary to attack our local union. As president of the NNLC, I feel that my re-election in Local 600 was an expression of support of the NNLC. This, indeed, is the highest expression of labor unity.
With this overwhelming vote of confidence from my fellow workers and with a firm faith in the inevitable victory that shall be ours, I call upon all friends and supporters of the NNLC to join with us in making our Second Annual Convention in Cleveland, Ohio, on November 21, 22 and 23, a memorable highpoint in our surge along Freedom road.
Freedom, October 1952.
For many years Mr. William A. Reed has struggled with his efficient printing and accounting business on Warren and Bourbon Sts. in Detroit, Mich.
It is a small business. He employs five people: two printers and three office workers.
For a long time Mr. Reed has joined with other Negro printers in asking the Allied Printing Trades Council to unionize their shops, which would give them the right to use the union “bug” on their work and therefore increase the volume of their trade. They were consistently denied the label by the council on the basis of the lily-white policies of the printing trades.
Jim Crow in the printing trades has a two-sided disadvantage for Negroes. First of all young Negro printers are denied an important source of bona fide training, because this training can only be secured through apprenticeships in union shops.
Secondly, Negro small businessmen in the printing business are cut off from large contracts by the absence of the union bug from their work, and it is therefore difficult for them to meet union scale wages for their printers, on what Mr. Reed calls “Church ticket and calling card contracts.”
With the cooperation of the Greater Detroit Negro Labor Council, Mr. Reed has re-applied to the Allied Printing Trades Council for membership. He and a representative of the Negro Labor Council met with President Clifford G. Sparkman, President of the Council and for the first time, the Council has indicated a willingness to go along with the application for membership . . . to go along with democracy.
Mr. Reed’s admission will be an historic step toward breaking down the age-old discriminatory barriers against Negro printers in the union.
In estimating the importance of his fight, the crusading printer, himself, says: “Since every small business is directly dependent on the earnings of working people for his very existence, any notion on the part of the small businessman that his interests are different from those of labor is plain stupidity. Small business will feel the effects of a strike or layoff overnite and it succeeds or fails as the fortunes of labor go up or down.
“I have operated a small business for more than twenty years and I think that every business would be helped if the employees of all small business would be given advantages of pay and working conditions comparable to those of industrial workers.”
Freedom, November 1952.
CHICAGO—The action of a Criminal Court jury in freeing Harold Ward, militant Negro trade unionist of the framed-up “murder” charges brought against him in the course of the recent International Harvester strike, is regarded here as a major victory for the labor movement.
The all-white jury of 10 men and two women took an hour and 55 minutes to decide that Ward had not killed William Foster, a Negro strikebreaker, on October 3. In doing so, the jury justified the charge of the defense that Ward was on trial because, as financial secretary of the United Electrical-Farm Equipment Workers Local 108, he had been one of the outstanding leaders in maintaining unity between Negro and white workers in the bitterly-fought strike.
The freeing of Ward recalls the dramatic moment at the National Negro Labor Council Convention when his wife addressed a packed opening-night audience and told the delegates the kind of man her husband is. Mrs. Ruth Ward said:
“Harold is just about as guilty . . . as you or I are. He is guilty of some things. Guilty of murdering the peace of mind of the big bosses in Chicago. He has been a thorn in McCormick’s side because he fights for the rank and file. . . . He is also guilty of fighting for peace. He went all the way across the sea, and that is terrible, they say. Every paper has tried him on that alone; he went to the Peace Conference. . . . So he is guilty of that . . . and he is guilty of something else, too. You know, this long bitter strike they had—he didn’t work eight hours like he did at McCormick’s. He worked 18, 20, 24 hours. He has gone as long as three days without sleep, fighting, fighting for the men in the strike—for the rank and file—and Harvester didn’t like that either.
“He started with McCormick’s in 1944; he started with the union in 1945. They all tie up together. He came home one day and I was just like the other wives—I didn’t see why he didn’t go on and take that foreman’s job they offered him—it was nice and paid a little more money. But he didn’t want that. It took him a long time to convince me, too; to show me that we have to work for everybody. Alone we don’t get very far, and as Negroes we get even less far. So we have to work together just as Harold worked—for me, and his union.”
Freedom, December 1952.
If Labor Fails to Use Negro Potential, It Battles “With an Arm Tied Behind Its Back”
By William R. Hood
(Recording Secretary, Local 600, United Auto Workers)
The CIO thus served as a vehicle for creating a unity hitherto unknown in America: the unity of one million Negro industrial workers with their fellow white workers in industry. It was a bridgehead for the firm and fraternal bonds that today characterize the relationship of the Negro people to the labor movement.
Today, as the labor movement girds itself in anticipation of the antilabor onslaught of the Eisenhower adminstration, it is a simple matter of self-preservation that makes it imperative for labor to look for support in the direction of the untapped reservoir of potential leadership and strength which its Negro membership has to offer.205
The failure to make use of this potential, projects labor into its battle for life with an arm tied behind its back.
This question, the utilization and bringing forward of Negro leadership, which has long been a political football in the union movement, must now be squarely faced by every honest and straight-thinking labor leader who has the over-all interest of our unions at heart.
The decision which is made at the 14th constitutional convention of the United Auto Workers, in Atlantic City this month on the elevation of a Negro unionist to elected office in our International Union may well determine whether or not the UAW-CIO will have the political stamina and moral fortitude to face up to the crisis that looms ahead.
Freedom, March 1953.
When Walter Reuther placed an Administrator over Local 600 in March, 1952, five of the most militant leaders were removed from office and have been barred from seeking reelection.
The five are Dave Moore, Nelson Davis, John Gallo, Ed Locke and Paul Botin. Moore and Davis are Negroes who along with their three white union brothers bear the scars and wounds inflicted by the goons of the Ford Motor Company in the organizational drive in the giant Ford Rouge plant. They were removed by Reuther for being “members of, or subservient to” the Communist Party and doing “irreparable harm” to the UAW. They have appealed their cases to the National UAW Convention to be held in Atlantic City in March.
The two highest bodies of Local 600, the Executive Board and the General Council, have acted in the defense of the five militant leaders.
The entire Local 600 delegates will go to the UAW convention under mandate from the membership to fight and vote for the reinstatement of all five of its removed members.
Dave Moore and Nelson Davis along with other Negro leaders of Local 600 have not only given leadership to their Negro brothers and sisters, but to the white workers as well.
Here is their record:
Dave Moore was vice-president of the Gear and Axle Plant of Local 600 for four years, prior to his removal by Walter Reuther in March, 1952. He was a volunteer organizer in the union and was one of the six men who pulled the switches that shut down the Axle plant in the historic 1941 strike. As a result of this action he was fired and told by a foreman that he would never work at the Ford Motor Company again. However, after the victorious ten-day strike, the Gear and Axle workers rewarded Dave Moore for his stalwart leadership by electing him committeeman. Down through the years he has had many offices from committeeman to his last held position, the second highest in the unit, vice-president.
Nelson Davis has worked at the Ford Motor Company for 30 years and holds the distinction of being the first worker to wear a union button in the foundry. He was elected by the Foundry workers as district committeeman for three terms; as bargaining committeeman for four terms, and vice-president of the General Council since the founding of the Local. When removed by Reuther, he was holding the office of vice-president and member of the General Council.
In a joint statement, Moore and Davis said: “If fighting against discriminatory policies of the Ford Motor Company and fighting for the rights of Negro men and women to be promoted to better jobs, if disagreeing with the International Union’s lily-white executive board on issues affecting the good and welfare of members of Local 600 and the members of the UAW, constitute ‘membership or subservience to the Communist Party,’ then we say make the most of it.”
Freedom, March 1953.
“Negro Up-Grading Benefits the Whole Union Movement”
By Layman Walker
(Recording Secretary, Loc. 742, UAW-CIO)
For many years we in the labor movement in the Detroit and Wayne County area, have waged a struggle for the advancement of Negro leadership in the local union bodies of the CIO.
It is now a matter of history that where the successful fight has been waged to advance Negro workers, the whole union movement has benefitted and been strengthened.
It is unfortunate that the examples set by many locals in the matter of Negro participation in top union leadership has not so far been emulated by the International UAW-CIO. This is a fact which offers no credit to our International Union but presents itself as a definite chink in our armour, and a weakness in the unity which our union must have in the critical period ahead.
I take my position now, as in the past for the very broadest application of democracy in the UAW, starting on the level of its top officers and extending into every rank and file committee of our great International Union.
We Must Make an All Out Drive for FEPC
By Joe Morgan
(President of the Frame and Cold-Header Unit of Loc. 600; Natl. Vice-Pres. NNLC; Pres., Great Detroit NNLC.)
The recent mobilization at Lansing on the passage of a state FEPC bill was a tremendous success. This is only the beginning of mass mobilizations until such a bill is passed. We will show the state politicians that the question of Negro employment is not some political gimmick just to be tossed around at election time.
All UAW leaders must recognize that this will be labor’s most critical year under a Big Business administration and therefore must make an all out drive for FEPC, giving concrete expression to this fact in life by electing a Negro to the executive board of the UAW at our forthcoming convention.
This is the logic and meaning of our fight for FEPC, a fight that unites Negro and white workers in the common struggle to build a strong, united labor movement to weather the approaching storm.
Fight Cannot be Won With “Plans”
By James Watts
(FEPC Director, Ford Loc. 600)
These are the days that will try men’s souls and will separate the men from the boys. The winning of the fight for survival of the CIO calls for a rededication of the principles upon which it was founded. It is a fight that cannot be won with “plans.”
The strength of the Negro people, conditioned by 350 years of struggle, is needed more than ever before if the CIO is going to pull through the big struggle ahead. The first step must be the immediate elevation of a Negro to post of Executive Vice-President. Second, the UAW in its forthcoming convention should face up to its responsibilities and elect a Negro to one of its vice-presidencies. Third, CIO should immediately begin negotiations for the return to its fold of the internationals expelled.
Freedom, March, 1953.
Each day brings added indications that important sections of the labor movement are taking a new look at the divisive effects of anti-Negro discrimination and are making up their minds to enter the fight for equality with new vigor.
Faced with the entrenched Big Business outlook of the Eisenhower administration and its millionaire cabinet, labor leaders who have not worried much about FEPC in the past are beginning to realize that prejudice doesn’t pay—at least among workers.
Most important, the pressure of rank and file union members, FEPC shop committees and local anti-discrimination bodies, and the militant initiative of not-to-be-denied Negro workers, is beginning to bear fruit in the higher echelons of labor’s ranks.
Much credit for this development must go to the National Negro Labor Council. Despite all efforts to defame and defile it, the Council has been a prod to the sluggards and a goad upon the conscience of the complacent. It has rendered valuable aid to the unions in their fight to catch up with the soaring cost of living, and enjoys the enthusiastic support of increasing numbers of workers in basic industry.
The NNLC has just announced a new date for its 3rd Annual Convention: December 3–5 at the Pershing Hotel on Chicago’s Southside. At the center of the convention deliberations will be a campaign against job discrimination in the mammoth railroad industry. All unions, organizations and individuals concerned with the question of democracy in employment should contact their local Negro Labor Council or the NNLC national office at 410 E. Warren, Detroit, Mich., and send delegates to this vital convention.
As we go to press the Brotherhood of Sleeping Car Porters has just concluded its triennial convention in Los Angeles with a strong blast against McCarthyism, a plea for a world disarmament conference, and a call for a national drive for jobs for Negroes as railroad switchmen, brakemen, conductors and engineers. The incumbent slate of officers, headed by A. Philip Randolph, were re-elected for a three-year term.
A new development on the jobs front are the two national anti-discrimination conferences being held by major international unions. The million-member United Auto Workers, CIO, has just brought together in Detroit, 400 delegates in a Fair Employment Practices conference to map out a drive to include a model anti-discrimination clause in all contracts with the auto barons, and support the NAACP crusade for “freedom by ’63.”
In Chicago on Oct. 30, 31, and Nov. 1, the United Packinghouse Workers, CIO, will convene a conference of workers from its shops throughout the country to heighten its efforts to eliminate Jim Crow hiring in the huge meat-packing industry.
A new wind is blowing in the labor movement, a good wind. If it develops hurricane proportions, as it should, it can go a long way toward blowing down the temple of Old Jim Crow in the U.S.A.
Freedom, September 1953.
Convention Calls for Wide Action in World and Assails Communist-Ruled Unions
John N. Popham
New York Times, July 4, 1954.
Content removed at rightsholder’s request.
New York Times, October 1, 1955.
I am sure that I need not say that I thank you and that I am especially proud to be here today.
I have been wandering back and forth across this America of ours trying to help where I can. I got a telegram from Ben saying I would have to be here and as a member of the Union, here I am. (Applause and cheers).210
It is a great privilege to be here on the day when two dear friends, and two great fighters, Mr. Fast and Mr. Lee Pressman, are here.211
It was my privilege to be in Colorado not long ago with your attorney, Mr. Pressman and what a magnificent job he did in the cause for freedom in that part of America and I know that you have profited no end by listening to him today.
Just a few things I am going to say. They have to do with things that I think are very close to you and to me. Before that—unfortunately, Mr. Brown, my accompanist, does not fly, and I was in Louisville a day or so ago, he had to go on to California and I will catch up with him later. I am going to sing a couple of songs, unaccompanied. I used to do that, too! (Mr. Robeson sang “Water Boy,” “Joe Hill.”)
Since “Freedom Train” is going to reflect so much what Ben said about what I feel and what you feel very much about, I would like to finish with that and say a few words I have to say just before and then I will finish with Langston Hughes’ “Freedom Train.”
I have been, for example, in North Carolina where I stood on the very soil on which my own father was a slave. My father came to New Jersey. I was born not far from here, up around Trenton and Princeton. I know this part of the world very well. My father was a wandering minister, going from one small church to another, and I saw my cousins in North Carolina, sharecroppers, tenant farmers trying to eke some kind of decent living from that land.
I was in the mountains of West Virginia a few weeks ago, just a couple of weeks ago, and the things that I saw shocked me beyond words. I did not know that we, the wealthy land that we are, we with our high standard of living could allow thousands and thousands of workers to live like that.
I was in Pueblo, Colorado not long ago, with Mr. Pressman, and the next morning we saw Spanish-Americans living practically under the ground in holes—in Pueblo, Colorado.
In the South, in the cotton fields, across the whole South, in the fruitful fields of California, people from the Middle West of our country, practically living at the edge of subsistence.
Now why these things? These things should make us reflect upon the kind of America that we have. Why should this be so?
The late President Roosevelt said that it was one-third of our nation that was under-privileged. Perhaps you know more about that than I. As I go about seeing things at their source, it seems it is possible more than two-thirds, perhaps more than that, while the few control the great wealth and in some way convince us that we have this very high standard of life.
I see too much poverty for us to boast.
Now as I was in Kansas City and saw what the police did—I was in the hall a few days after the police had hit the workers over the heads, gone in and torn up the union hall. I remember when on the Mesabi Range, I had a concert there, I was on the picket line, and the scabs came out protected by the sheriff and they were bent over. I wanted to know why they were bent over and they told me they had rifles in their hands and they were supposed to shoot if necessary. They did shoot just the other night, yesterday, I understand, at Waterloo, Iowa. I just came from there, too, speaking in the home state of Mr. Wallace. Things happened in Charleston, South Carolina just the other day.
These things mean there are forces in our life, I say they are the forces of the few that are saying to the people as they aspire to a more decent life not only shall we not give you more wages, not only shall you Negroes not have any more civil rights, we will beat you down and see that you remain in a kind of industrial serfdom as long as we have any kind of power.
These things, unfortunately, are not new in the struggle of mankind. I often think how is it that we, the people, the great majority of the people, struggling as we have for generation after generation forward to some better life, how can it happen that everywhere in history a few seem to take the power in their hands, confuse the people themselves and there they remain?
But that has been the history of the world or we might not be here because who built this America of ours? The poor from England, the poor from Ireland, the poor from Scotland and Wales, my own people brought as slaves to this land, those who suffered in the old Poland, those who suffered in Czarist Russia, those who suffered in the Balkans, in Asia, in Latin-America—we have built this America. This has been built upon the very backs of ourselves and of our forefathers.
And the Negro people of this land must realize today, as they face a new kind of struggle, that they must have courage; they must have knowledge that the very primary wealth of America is cotton, built upon the backs of our fathers; that cotton taken to the textile mills of New England; and that we don’t have to ask for crumbs to be dropped from the few up top, but we have the right and the responsibility to demand in a militant way a better life for ourselves and for the rest of those Americans and the peoples of the world who still suffer and are oppressed. (Applause and cheers)
Now, this is the essence of the struggle that we fought under Roosevelt. No one knows it better than your Union. I have gone about this land in many places and everywhere do I see the Fur and Leather Workers in the vanguard of progress.
I was in Cincinnati not long ago, in a real struggle. I was in the house of Mr. Dickerson and there the whole core of progressive struggle was built around our Union. So I know that we understand that somewhere things do get confused now and then. The boys on top are pretty good at sowing the seeds of confusion, but it is very simple if we remember our own struggle, how you have grown and how you have built. And somewhere we had this great figure of a Roosevelt who fought and called these people what they were, the people who control our resources, the Economic Royalists, he called them. This struggle went on, in our favor and in the favor of the Negro workers and the Negro people throughout this land. And somewhere other forces came in and have tried to undo all the great work that he built up.
But it does not rest in big worlds; it rests in very simple things. It rests in the fact as to whether we sitting here, getting along pretty well, whether other Americans doing very well, consider those who yet do not have a decent life. Are they really people like ourselves?
This is the way I have tried to phrase it in the last weeks because as I said to the people in Colorado, those of the progressive movement—how could they sit there and allow people to live like these people did in Pueblo?
How can we dare face the world today knowing the suffering in many parts of the world and stand and, for example, support and allow our government to support a British Empire which supports a Smuts in South Africa, which has millions of Africans and peoples from Asia in complete serfdom?
How can we stand and allow our government to suggest that we can think more of the profits of a few people of Standard Oil of this very state, than of the lives of one of the great peoples of the world, a people who gave us the very basis of our ethics and our religion? Am I to say or to allow to say a Forrestall, who went to Princeton about the same time I went to Rutgers—I know a lot of these fellows on the board of Standard Oil—they say, “Roby, why do you take the side you do?” They care nothing for the rights of the ordinary laboring man. Let them starve, they say, just so we get the profits. But I say to them, never, for example, shall my son go to a foreign land to take up a gun to shoot a people that are close to him in the interests of any kind of oil. (Applause and cheers)
So this is the basic thing, as I see it. Just people, millions and millions of them, aspiring people, very much the same all over the world. And if we understand it in the South, if we understand that obviously nothing is perfect in this world, our struggle in America from the days of Jefferson down through Lincoln and Roosevelt and through Wallace today has been somehow to see that the many, the many can take some kind of real share of their labor, that the few shall not keep on controlling our land, that there must be an extension of this democracy to those who do not have it. And so this is so all over the world.
Can’t we understand what has happened in Hungary, in Yugoslavia, in China, all over the world, where a few landlords owned all the land and told the peasants, as they tell the Negroes in the South, they must remain in slavery?
They helped to defeat the fascism that kept them under heel because they knew landlords sided with that fascism. We should understand today that when the land comes to them and they get some share of it, like we got homestead lands in the Middle-West—like the Negro people were promised forty acres and a mule, they have not got it yet—somewhere, some day they will get some decent share of that land in this land of ours.
But we must understand, having come from these different places in the world that they have the same aspirations as we and that there are many ways toward this freedom. We have our historic background; they have theirs. In Scandinavia they do it one way; in England they do it another way. In Russia, Yugoslavia and China they will do it their way. They have that privilege, coming from their historic base. And we must understand and have respect for the aspirations of other people and if our kind of life is so much better than the rest of the world’s, let’s show it to the world, let’s not try to beat the backs of others. (Applause and cheers)
And from my own experience, coming up as I say, with a father who looked in his time to the major parties to solve all the problems, well, he waited a long while for the Republicans to do something. Perhaps he did not know that the people who owned those plantations in the south, the people that own the great industries, they have their interests served by these so-called major parties.
I worked in a law office with a lot of them, one a Republican, one a Democrat—they represent their interests. Like a man whom I knew in Seattle, a so-called liberal today in Washington, checking everything to stop decent housing, because he happened to represent the real estate interests. He cares nothing where the veterans live, where people live who want decent homes; he must fight for those kinds of profits.
And so it goes along, and these parties somewhere they have their interests served.
And we must be very careful today, very careful as we succumb to a kind of hysteria here and there because I ask you, what forces take our liberties away? I ask you, in Binghamton, New York, for example, when I was there some years ago, you said you must not say this in this town. Who were the men from Cornell who were coming to speak on the same platform? They were the people who owned Binghamton. Who are responsible for what happened in Kansas City? The people who own the meat packing companies, who have the nerve to say to the people of America, we, the few, are the American civilization.
They are not the American civilization! The people themselves are! (Applause)
I talked to my manager some weeks ago and he said, “Paul, in your going around defending labor, fighting for Wallace, you have no more concert career.” I said, “Tell me. I am interested. How did you figure that out?” He answered “Nobody will book you.”
You know how that goes. All the little cities, you know how concerts are built up, a very fine picture how the whole thing works. Twelve hundred society bigwigs are the concert people in most of the towns. No ordinary person can buy a ticket except by subscription, fifteen dollars, twenty dollars. A closed circle. So you go around America, doing concerts, singing to about 1,200 or 2,000 people instead of tens of thousands and hundreds of thousands. And the manager gets to think that this is America, this is American culture.
I told him that he is just kidding. If I am not booked in Binghamton or somewhere else, just hire the hall and I’ll show him that there are a lot of other people besides those 1,500. (Applause, cheers and delegates arose)
I shall finish with this reading of “The Freedom Train.”
Proceedings of the Convention, May 20, 1948, pp. 201-04. FLWU Archives.
WASHINGTON—Paul Robeson last week marched at the head of a picket line in front of the White House here and later, in a press conference, challenged President Truman to make good on his civil rights promises and enforce his FEPC order by protecting Negro workers from mass layoffs and discriminations at the Bureau of Engraving and Printing.
When informed that President Truman had told reporters that he had not noticed the three-week old picket line and, even if he had, would have no comment, Robeson criticized the President and accused Mr. Truman of defaulting on his civil rights pledges.
Accompanied by Charles P. Howard, Des Moine attorney who keynoted last year’s Progressive Party convention, Robeson came to Washington and spent two afternoons marching in the picket line which has been maintained for three week in front of the White House.
The marchers protested the jim-crow working conditions which have prevailed for many years in this Federal agency which comes directly under the control of Secretary of Treasury John Snyder. These conditions have been exposed by bureau workers before the House FEPC subcommittee and have been called to the attention of Congress recently in speeches by Rep. Vito Marcantonio and Sen. William Langer in both houses of Congress. Resolutions demanding investigation of the discriminatory bureau conditions have been introduced in both houses.213
Some 1,800 war-service Negro women employees of the bureau now face loss of their jobs while being denied the opportunity to qualify for permanent status in their specialized fields, declared Mr. Robeson. He said: “If President Truman is sincere about civil rights and about the FEPC order he issued, he would do something about this.”
Continuing, Mr. Robeson said: “Congress has not passed any civil rights this year. But here is something which Truman and his cabinet officer, Snyder, can do without waiting on Congress. They simply have to enforce the FEPC order which the President issued, with much fanfare, a year ago.”
Officials of the United Public Workers Union which is conducting the picket line revealed that complaints filed with the Treasury’s FEP board and with the board established in the Civil Service Commission by appointment of the President, have not been settled. Thomas Richardson, union official, told reporters that Guy Moffett, chairman of the FEP board, had told the union informally that it cannot direct a cabinet officer to do anything. Mr. Moffett said that the FEP board, under the President’s order, is purely advisory without effective enforcement powers.
Most of the Negro workers involved in the dispute served in specialized jobs all through the war. Now, they are being displaced to make room for white workers, say union officials. While the union supports the plan to replace war service workers with permanent status employees, it contends that in the bureau of engraving, Negro workers have been systematically denied any opportunity to take examinations or to otherwise qualify for status. Replacement workers lack both the experience and training of these Negro workers, say union officials.
Pittsburgh Courier, August 13, 1949.
I want to thank you very much for allowing me to come in to say a word. I am traveling about the country. I just came up from Dallas enroute to the Northwest and I found that the Caucus was in session. Certainly, as a member of the Union, knowing of the struggle that is around the corner, I wanted to stop to say a word, to let you know that as a member of the Union, if there is anything I can do, just let me know.
The struggle never seems to stop. It gets sharper and sharper. I pick up the papers today and find that we and our Union have a real job to do.
I have been to Hawaii and have been in close touch with union matters. I cannot tell you how proud I am to be a member of this Union. I go back to the day when I was taken in. I have been a member of many unions.
I cannot tell you how proud I am to be with you. I have watched your struggle, watched the consistent stand you have taken, and I know you are going to continue to do that.
Taft-Hartley means death to the trade union movement. The two parties have been playing around, and at every moment we see that Truman steps in and uses every provision he can to do his part of the job. You have a real problem, I understand. It means that you are going to tell them, as you have told them before, that you want no part whatsoever of this kind of legislation, which not only would break the back of the labor movement but would set back the whole struggle of the American people for generations. And I understand that you are going to tell them that you want no part of voting on what the employers have offered to you, that you will set the terms yourselves. That I am very proud to see.
In traveling about the country it is quite clear that the struggle for economic rights, the struggle for higher wages, the struggle for bread, the struggle for housing, has become a part of a wider political struggle. They have moved in to high places in government, and today the enemies of labor control the working apparatus of the state. They have to be removed. There has to be a basic change. I feel that this can only be done by seeing that we put into power those who represent a political party which has the deep interests of the people at heart. I am sure you understand that this cannot be separated, that we must understand politically that Truman is in office through one party, the Republicans are in through one party and are responsible for Taft-Hartley, and that somewhere you have to see another group in there that fights for the rights of labor and for the rights of the American people.
And so I travel about today not only as a member of the Union, not only as an artist (I do concerts now and then), not only as a representative of the Negro people, but I travel as one of the Progressive Party, fighting to put Wallace in the presidential chair. Wallace is the man who might be there had he not in 1944 said “Jim Crow must go,” had he not fought so hard for the rights of labor. He is the one public leader who has come out at once to say that the hiring hall must remain and that these men must be fought to the teeth; the people who are trying to break our backs.
And so I trust that you will realize the depth of that struggle, that you will not separate them, that they cannot be separated, that they go hand in hand, that the one way that this can be beaten is to give your energy, to give your time, to give your money, to see that we can put representatives in Congress and a President in the White House and a Vice-President who will represent our interests.
It has been my great privilege since I have seen you last to have been able to go to Hawaii for the Union; to have seen there working a real democratic way of life in the Union; workers from all over the world who have become a part of the American way of life, building a decent home and a decent way of life for their children and for themselves in the Islands of Hawaii.
I managed to learn some of the sons of the people from the Philippines, of the Japanese-Americans. I saw many Negroes there who have remained.
I want to thank the Union for what it is doing there. I hope pretty soon to be down in the West Indies; I hope to drop by Cuba to see some of our fellows there.
And I want to repeat that I come today mainly as one in the Union, fighting its struggle, I shall be in the area for just two or three days. I shall be back, I hope, soon again.
I am so proud to see the leadership that you have given to the whole labor movement. I want to thank your courageous leader, Harry Bridges, for his consistent stand.214
The final word is that as members of the ILWU, we have a tremendous responsibility. I cannot tell you how the labor movement throughout the country looks to you as an example. And so there is added responsibility for you to carry on the fight in the next few days, in the next few weeks, in the next few months. . . .
“The issue is not the loyalty of the Negro people because that is not a subject of debate. The real issue is whether the Negro people would permit themselves to be divided by a group such as the Un-American Activities Committee in their fight for peace and human dignity. The committee’s efforts to make the loyalty of the Negro people an issue is an insult. How do they dare to question our loyalty. I challenge the loyalty of the Un-American Activities Committee.
“The truth is that the action of the committee is just one step from the herding of black people into concentration camps. It is therefore very important that the Negro press step forward and defend, not me, but the Negro people.
“We cannot forget that John S. Wood, chairman of the committee, once called the Ku Klux Klan an American institution. Why, then, should Negroes pick this type of committee to express their loyalty?
“Why did the committee merely question the loyalty of Negroes? How about the Italians? Did Joe DiMaggio go down there to testify?215
“It should be clear that Robinson, by appearing before this committee, has performed a profound political act that has aided those who would enslave the Negro. He erred too in stating to this committee that the Negro didn’t need the help of the Communists. The Negro needs the help of all—Communist or non-Communist. But it does not need the aid of a man who once called the Ku Klux Klan an American institution.216
“My main concern is to get at this Un-American Activities Committee. Again, I repeat I am willing to appear before the committee at any time.
“The statement I made before the Paris Peace Conference has been distorted I am not interested in war, but in peace, and here is what I said at that conference:
“’It is unthinkable that the Negro people could be lured into any kind of war especially against the Soviet Union, where former colonial people have complete equality. The question is: Will the Negro be drawn into a war which can only extend their enslavement, or will they fight for peace?’
“If we were to go to war today, we’d be fighting for those who represent fascist Germany, the British Empire, and that one per cent of America that exploits the other ninety-nine per cent.
“I have no desire of being a ‘Black Stalin.’ All I want to do is to sing and act. These things I feel I will be able to do always. Negroes have a chance in this period to make greater gains than ever before. They must be militant, and they will succeed.
“Jackie Robinson told the committee about his willingness to fight for ‘investment’ in America. But it is not a question of going to war but a question of struggling for peace. When Jackie speaks of investment, he should remember that I too, have an investment in the United States. But I can’t forget what could happen to my investment overnight under present conditions.
“The truth is that eighty-five concert engagements of mine have been cancelled of a total of eighty-five. But this does not worry me in the least since I can always find places to sing. Nor will it prevent me from earning a living, because long ago I prepared myself to sing in the various languages of the world, and as a result, I can now go to Alaska or Hong Kong and make a living singing there.
“But they can’t scare me and they can’t run me out of this country. I gave them a chance to throw me in jail. I refused to answer that certain question.
“Permit me to deny two reports. First, I did not write to Jackie Robinson asking him not to appear before the committee. Second, I did not say at Paris that colored people would not fight in a war against Russia. But when it became obvious to me that the statement I made had been purposely distorted, I said to myself, ‘Okay, let it stand like that.’ But now that organizations such as the House Un-American Activities Committee are attempting to use it to their advantage, I am taking the attitude, ‘Let’s put the statement back into context now.’”
Typescript, proceeding of the caucus, August 21, 1948, pp. 229–32. ILWU Archives.
By Paul Robeson
I am profoundly happy to be here tonight.
No meeting held in America at this mid-century turning point in world history holds more significant promise for the bright future toward which humanity strives than this National Labor Conference for Negro Rights. For here are gathered together the basic forces—the Negro sons and daughters of labor and their white brothers and sisters—whose increasingly active intervention in national and world affairs is an essential requirement if we are to have a peaceful and democratic solution of the burning issues of our times.
Again we must recall the state of the world in which we live, and especially the America in which we live. Our history as Americans, Black and white, has been a long battle, so often unsuccessful, for the most basic rights of citizenship, for the most simple standards of living, the avoidance of starvation—for survival.
I have been up and down the land time and again, thanks in the main to you trade unionists gathered here tonight. You helped to arouse American communities to give to Peekskill, to protect the right of freedom of speech and assembly. And I have seen and daily see the unemployment, the poverty, the plight of our children, our youth, the backbreaking labor of our women—and too long, too long have my people wept and mourned. We’re tired of this denial of a decent existence. We demand some approximation of the American democracy we have helped to build.
For who built this great land of ours?
Who have been the guarantors of our historic democratic tradition of freedom and equality? Whose labor and whose life has produced the great cities the industrial machine, the basic culture and the creature comforts of which our “Voice of America” spokesmen so proudly boast?217
It is well to remember that the America which we know has risen out of the toil of the many millions who have come here seeking freedom from all parts of the world:
The Irish and Scotch indentured servants who cleared the forests, built the colonial homesteads and were part of the productive backbone of our early days.
The millions of German immigrants of the mid-nineteenth century; the millions more from Eastern Europe whose sweat and sacrifice in the steel mills, the coal mines and the factories made possible the industrial revolution of the Eighties and Nineties; the brave Jewish people from all parts of Europe and the world who have so largely enriched our lives on this new continent; the workers from Mexico and from the East—Japan and the Philippines—whose labor has helped make the West and Southwest a rich and fruitful land.
And, through it all, from the earliest days—before Columbus—the Negro people, upon whose unpaid toil as slaves the basic wealth of this nation was built!
These are the forces that have made America great and preserved our democratic heritage.
They have arisen at each moment of crisis to play the decisive role in our national affairs.
The Strength of the Negro People
In the Civil War, hundreds of thousands of Negro soldiers who took arms in the Union cause won, not only their own freedom—the freedom of the Negro people—but, by smashing the institution of slave labor, provided the basis for the development of trade unions of free working men in America.
And so, even today, as this National Labor Conference for Negro Rights charts the course ahead for the whole Negro people and their sincere allies, it sounds a warning to American bigotry and reaction. For if fifteen million Negroes led by their staunchest sons and daughters of labor, and joined by the white working class, say that there shall be no more Jim Crow in America, then there shall be no more Jim Crow!
If fifteen million Negroes say, and mean it, no more anti-Semitism, then there shall be no more anti-Semitism!
If fifteen million Negroes, inspired by their true leaders in the labor movement, demand an end to the persecution of the foreign-born, then the persecution of the foreign-born will end!
If fifteen million Negroes in one voice demand an end to the jailing of the leaders of American progressive thought and culture and the leaders of the American working class, then their voice will be strong enough to empty the prisons of the victims of America’s cold war.
If fifteen million Negroes are for peace, then there will be peace!
And behind these fifteen million are 180 million of our African brothers and sisters, 60 million of our kindred in the West Indies and Latin America—for whom, as for us, war and the Point Four Program would mean a new imperialis slavery.
The Issues of Our Time
I know that you understand these problems—and especially the basic problem of peace. You have already outlined the issues in your sessions, and they are clear to liberty-loving men around the world.
Shall we have atom-bomb and hydrogen bomb and rocketship and bacteriological war, or shall we have peace in the world; the hellish destruction of the men, women and children, of whole civilian populations, or the peaceful construction of the good life everywhere?
For the warmakers are also the fascist-minded; and the warmakers are also the profit-hungry trusts who drive labor, impose Taft-Hartley laws and seek to crush the unions.
Depending on how we succeed in the fight for peace, then, we shall find the answers to the other two major questions of the day.
Shall we have fascist brute rule or democratic equality and friendship among peoples and nations; the triumphant enshrinement of the “master race” theories our soldiers died to destroy, or liberty and freedom for the American people and their colonial allies throughout the world?
And finally, shall we have increased wealth for the already bloated monopolies in the midst of rising hunger, poverty and disease for the world’s poor; or shall the masses of toiling men and women enjoy the wealth and comforts which their sweat and labor produce?
American Imperialism vs. the Colonial World
Yes, these are the issues.
They will be resolved in our time—and you may be sure that you have met, not a moment too soon. Because in the five years since V-J Day the American trusts and the government which they control have taken their stand more and more openly on the side of a cold war which they are desperately trying to heat up; on the side of the fascist and kingly trash which they seek to restore to power all over Europe and Asia; on the side of the princes of economic privilege whose every cent of unprecedented profits is wrung out of the toil-broken bodies of the masses of men.
Mr. Truman and Mr. Acheson want us to believe that they seek peace in the world. But the people’s memory is not so short.218
How well and how bitterly do we recall that soon after Roosevelt died American arms were being shipped to the Dutch—not for the protection of the Four Freedoms, but to advance the claims of liberty—but for the suppression of the brave Indonesian patriots in their fight for independence.
That was in 1946, and today—four years later—we have the announcement of another program of arms shipments to destroy a movement for colonial independence—this time arms for the French imperialists to use against the brave Viet-Namese patriots in what the French progressive masses call the “dirty wars” in Indo-China.
These two acts of the Truman Administration are significant landmarks of our time!
They cry out to the world that our nation, born in a bloody battle for freedom against imperialist tyranny, has itself become the first enemy of freedom and the chief tyrant of the mid-century world. They warn more than half the world’s population who people the vast continents of Asia that, until the course of our foreign policy is changed, they can no longer look to the U.S. government for help in their strenuous struggles for a new and independent life.
And, to be sure, they have already averted their gaze from us.
In every subject land, in every dependent area, the hundreds of millions who strive for freedom have set their eyes upon a new star that rises in the East—they have chosen as the model for their conduct the brave people and stalwart leaders of the new People’s Republic of China. And they say to our atom-toting politicians, “Send your guns and tanks and planes to our oppressors, if you will! We will take them away from them and put them to our own use! We will be free in spite of you, if not with your help!
Africa in World Affairs
What special meaning does this challenge of the colonial world have for American Negro workers and their allies?
We must not forget that each year 4,000 tons of uranium ore are extracted from the Belgian Congo—the main source of United States supply. And that Africa also provides more than half the world’s gold and chrome, 80 per cent of its cobalt, 90 per cent of its palm kernels, one-fifth of its manganese and tin, one-third of its sisal fiber and 60 per cent of its cocoa—not to mention untold riches yet unexplored.
But the African peoples are moving rapidly to change their miserable conditions. And 180 million natives on that great continent are an important part of the colonial tidal wave that is washing upon the shores of history and breaking through the ramparts of imperialist rule everywhere.
The Congo skilled worker extracting copper and tin from the rich mines of the land of his fathers may one day be faced with the same materials in the shape of guns provided his Belgian rulers by the Truman Administration under the Marshall Plan—but he is determined that the days of his virtual slave labor are numbered, and that the place for the Belgians to rule is in Belgium and not in the Congo.
And 25 million Nigerians-farmers, cattle raisers, miners, growers of half the world’s cocoa—are determined that the land of our fathers (for the vast majority of American Negro slaves were brought here from Africa’s West Coast)—shall belong to their fathers’ sons and not to the freebooters and British imperialists supported by American dollars.
And twelve South African workers lie dead, shot in a peaceful demonstration by Laman’s fascist-like police, as silent testimony to the fact that, for all their pass laws, for all their native compounds, for all their Hitler-inspired registration of natives and non-whites, the little clique that rules South Africa are baying at the moon. For it is later than they think in the procession of history, and that rich land must one day soon return to the natives on whose backs the proud skyscrapers of the Johannesburg rich were built
How are we to explain this new vigor of the African independence movement What is it that shakes a continent from Morocco to the Cape and causes the old rulers to tremble?
The core of the African nationalist movements, the heart of the resistance to continued oppression, the guiding intelligence of the independence aspirations of the Africans is invariably the organizations of the workers of the continent. Trade unions have arisen all over Africa and, as everywhere in modern times, they are the backbone of the people’s struggle.
And what is true of Africa is even more strikingly true in the West Indies, in Cuba, Brazil and the rest of Latin America where 60 million Negroes are building strong trade unions and demanding a new day.
So it was a proud day in the history of the laboring men and women of the world when these African workers—railroad men, miners, mechanics, sharecropper, craftsmen, factory workers—clasped grips with white, brown, yellow and other black workers’ hands around the world and formed the World Federation of Trade Unions!
Abdoulaye Diallo, General Secretary of the Congress of Trade Unions of the Sudan, and a Vice-President of the WFTU, and Gabriele D’Arboussier, who was denied a visa to attend this conference, stand as signals to the world that the African worker recognizes, not only that his future lies in strong and militant trade unionism, but also in his fraternal solidarity with workers of all climes and colors whose friends are his friends and whose enemies are his also.
The Truman Plan for Africa
However much the official density of the top leadership of American labor may have prevented it from recognizing the real significance of the emergence of African labor, the American trusts and their hirelings in government have not been asleep. They have been steadily carrying forward their own plan for Africa, of which Truman’s Point Four program is an essential though by no means the only part.
First, they say, we will spend the tax money of the American people to prop up the shaky empire builders of Europe who own and control most of Africa. And so the Marshall Plan sends billions to France, Italy, Belgium and Portugal
Second, they say, as a guarantee that the money is not wasted, we will send them arms under the Atlantic Pact so that they may put down any rising of the African peoples, or any demonstrations of sympathy for colonial freedom on the part of their own working classes.
Third, say the American banner-imperialists, with these guarantees, we will launch Point Four, which opens the door for investment of capital by American big business in African raw material and cheap labor.
Fourth, as an added guarantee that the investment of American monopoly—already garnered as surplus profits from the labor of speeded-up American workers—does not run the “risk” of any changes in government or “excessive” demands for living wages by African workers, we will build our own bases in Accra, Dakar and all over the African continent.
And fifth, should all these precautions failr should the African people eventually kick us and the British and the French and the Belgians and the Itallians and Portugese rulers out of their continent, then, says the Point Four program, we will compensate the American big business investors for their losses—again out of the public treasury, the people’s tax money.
Yes, this is the Truman plan for Africa, and the Africans don’t like it and are saying so louder and louder every day.
But it is only at the continent of Asia and Africa that the tentacles of the American billionaires are aimed? Indeed not!
Ask the people of Greece whose partisans continue an uneven struggle for democracy and independence as a consequence of the original Truman Doctrine!
Ask the Italian or French worker who, as a “beneficiary” of the Atlantic Arms Pact and the Marshall Plan, sees the ships bring American tanks and guns to his land while his children go hungry and ill-clad in the face of skyrocketing prices!
Ask the workers in Scandinavia and Britain who are weary of governments incapable of meeting their needs because they are the slavish captives of the American money-men who seek to dominate the world!
Ask the millions in Western Germany who see American influence placing unrepentant fascists back into positions of power, before the stench of the Dachaus and Buchenwalds—the Hitler crematoriums and mass murder camps—have left the land.
Ask the proud citizens of the New Democracies of Eastern Europe and of the Soviet Union who suffered most in World War II and whose every yearning for peace and time to reconstruct their ravaged land is met by the arrogant obstruction of American diplomats!
They know and they will tell you without hesitation—these people who are two-thirds of the world’s population—that the seat of danger of aggressive war and fascist oppression has shifted from the banks of the Rhine to the banks of the Potomac, from the Reich-chancellery of Hitler to the Pentagon Building, the State Department and the White House of the United States.
These peoples of the world look to us, the progressive forces in American life, Black and white together, to stop our government’s toboggan ride toward war and destruction.
Do they look in vain? This conference answers, no!
The Task of Labor
Your tasks, then, are clear. The Negro trade unionists must increasingly exert their influence in every aspect of the life of the Negro community. No church, no fraternal, civic or social organization in our communities must be permitted to continue without the benefit of the knowledge and experience which you have gained through your struggles in the great American labor movement. You are called upon to provide the spirit, the determination, the organizational skill, the firm steel of unyielding militancy to the age-old strivings of the Negro people for equality and freedom.
On the shoulders of the Negro trade unionists there is the tremendous responsibility to rally the power of the whole trade-union movement, white and Black, to the battle for the liberation of our people, the future of our women and children. Anyone who fails in this does the Negro people a great disservice.
And to the white trade unionists presents—a special challenge. You must fight in the ranks of labor for the full equality of your Negro brothers; for their right to work at any job; to receive equal pay for equal work; for an end to Jim Crow unions; for real fair employment practices within the unions as well as in all other phases of the national life; for the elimination of the rot of white supremacy notions which the employers use to poison the minds of the white workers in order to pit them against their staunchest allies, the Negro people—in short, for the unbreakable unity of the working people, Black and white, without which there can be no free trade unions, no real prosperity, no constitutional rights, no peace for anybody, whatever the color of his skin. To accept Negro leadership of men and women and youth; to accept the fact that the Negro workers have become a part of the vanguard of the whole American working class. To fail the Negro people is to fail the whole American people.
I know that you who have come from all parts of the nation will meet this challenge. I have watched and participated in your militant struggles everywhere I have been these past years. Here in Chicago with the packinghouse workers; with auto workers of Detroit; the seamen and longshoremen of the West Coast; the tobacco workers of North Carolina; the miners of Pittsburgh and West Virginia; and the steel workers of Illinois, Indiana, Ohio, Michigan and Minnesota; the furriers, clerks and office workers of New York, Philadelphia and numerous other big cities and small towns throughout the land.
I have met you at the train stations and airports, extending the firm hand of friendship. You have packed the meetings which followed Peekskill to overflowing, thus giving the answer to the bigots and the war-makers. I know you well enough to know that, once the affairs of my people are in the hands of our working men and women, our day of freedom is not far off. I am proud as an artist to be one who comes from hardy Negro working people—and I know that you can call on me at any time—South, North, East or West—all my energy is at you call.
So—as you move forward, you do so in the best traditions of American democracy and in league with hundreds of millions throughout the world whose problems are much the same as yours.
These are peoples of all faiths, all lands, all colors, and all political beliefs—united by the common thirst for freedom, security, and peace.
Our American press and commentators and politicians would discourage these basic human aspirations because Communists adhere to them as well as others. Now I have seen the liberty-loving, peace-seeking partisans in many parts of the world. And though many of them are not, it is also true that many are Communists. They represent a new way of life in the world, a new way that has won the allegiance of almost half the world’s population. In the last war they were the first to die in nation after nation. They were the heart of the underground anti-fascist movements and city after city in Europe displays monuments to their heroism. They need no apologies. They have been a solid core of the struggle for freedom.
Now, Mr. Truman and Mr. Acheson would have us believe that all the problem of this nation, and the chief difficulties of the Negro people are caused by these people who were the first anti-fascists.
I, for one, cannot believe that the jailing of Eugene Dennis for the reason that he contended that the House Un-American Activities Committee lacked proper constitutional authority because it harbored as a member John Rankin who holds office as a result of the disfranchisement of the Negro half of the population of Mississippi and most of the white half as well—I cannot believe that Dennis’ jailing will help in the solution of the grievous problems of Negro working men and women.
Mr. Truman calls upon us to save the so-called Western democracies from the “menace” of Communism.
But ask the Negro ministers in Birmingham whose homes were bombed by the Ku Klux Klan what is the greatest menace in their lives! Ask the Trenton Six and the Martinsville Seven! Ask Willie McGee, languishing in a Mississippi prison and doomed to die within the next month unless our angry voices save him. Ask Haywood Patterson, somewhere in America, a fugitive from Alabama barbarism for a crime he, nor any one of the Scottsboro boys, ever committed. Ask the growing numbers of Negro unemployed in Chicago and Detroit. Ask the fearsome lines of relief clients in Harlem. Ask the weeping mother whose son is the latest victim of police brutality. Ask Maceo Snipes and Isaiah Nixon, killed by mobs in Georgia because they tried to exercise the constitutional right to vote. Ask any Negro worker receiving unequal pay for equal work, denied promotion despite his skill and because of his skin, still the last hired and the first fired. Ask fifteen million American Negroes, if you please “What is the greatest menace in your life?” and they will answer in a thunderous voice, “Jim-Crow Justice! Mob Rule! Segregation! Job Discrimination!”—in short white supremacy and all its vile works.
Yes, we know who our friends are, and we know our enemies, too. Howard Fast, author of the epic novel Freedom Road who went to jail this past Wednesday for fighting against the restoration of fascism in Spain, is not our enemy. He is a true friend of the Negro people. And George Marshall, Chairman of the Civil Rights Congress, who went to jail last Friday and whose fight for the life of Willie McGee of Mississippi is one of the great democratic sagas of our time—he is not our enemy; he is a true friend of the Negro people. And John Howard Lawson and Dalton Trumbo, Hollywood screen writers, who went to jail the day before yesterday for maintaining their faith in the sacred American doctrine of privacy of political belief—they too are friends of the people.
Our enemies are the lynchers, the profiteers, the men who give FEPC the run-around in the Senate, the atom-bomb maniacs and the war-makers.
One simple reason why I know that we shall win is that our friends are so much more numerous than our enemies. They will have to build many, many more jails—not only here but all over the world to hold the millions who are determined never to give up the fight for freedom, decency, equality, abundance, and peace.
I have just this past week returned from London where the Executive Committee of the World Partisans for Peace met to further their crusade against atomic destruction. And there, spokesmen of millions of men and women from all parts of the globe—Europe, Asia, Africa, North and South America, Australia—pledged themselves anew that the Truman plan for the world shall not prevail—that peace shall conquer war—that men shall live as brothers, not as beasts.
These men and women of peace speak not merely for themselves, but for the nameless millions whose pictures do not adorn the newspapers, who hold no press conference, who are the mass of working humanity in every land.
Did I say nameless? Not any more! For one hundred million have already signed their names in all lands to a simple and powerful pledge, drawn up at Stockholm—a pledge which reads as follows:
We demand the unconditional prohibition of the atomic weapon as an instrument of aggression and mass extermination of people and the establishment of strict international control over the fulfillment of this decision. . . . We will regard as a war criminal that government which first uses the atomic weapon against any country.
The Soviet Union and China are signing this pledge. People in all nations of the world are signing it. Will you take this pledge now? (Audience answers a loud “Yes!”)
Your meeting tonight as men and women of American labor is in good time because it places you in this great stream of peace-loving humanity, determined to win a world of real brotherhood. It will enable you, I hope, to place the Negro trade unionists in the front ranks of a crusade to secure at least a million signatures of Negro Americans to this Stockholm appeal for peace.
As the Black worker takes his place upon the stage of history—not for a bit part, but to play his full role with dignity in the very center of the action—a new day dawns in human affairs. The determination of the Negro workers, supported by the whole Negro people, and joined with the mass of progressive white working men and women, can save the labor movement, CIO and AFL, from the betrayals of the Murrays and the Greens, the Careys, Rieves and Dubinskys—and from the betrayals, too, of the Townsends, the Weavers and Randolphs. This alliance can beat back the attacks against the living standards and the very lives of the Negro people. It can stop the drive toward fascism. It can halt the chariot of war in its tracks.220
And it can help to bring to pass in America and in the world the dream our fathers dreamed—of a land that’s free, of a people growing in friendship, in love, in cooperation and peace.
This is history’s challenge to you. I know you will not fail.
Speech delivered at Chicago meeting of more than 900 delegates to the National Labor Conference for Negro Rights, June 1950. Reprinted from the April 1976 issue of Political Affairs.
Just got back from the West Coast and an exciting visit with trade union leaders and rank and filers who are charting a new course in American labor history. The recent convention of the National Union of Marine Cooks and Stewards set a standard in labor’s struggle for the full rights and dignity of the Negro people that other unions in our country might do well to emulate.
Revels Cayton, the dynamic union leader who is now an organizer for the Distributive, Processing and Office Workers in New York, and George Murphy, our general manager at FREEDOM, made the trip with me and we all had an exciting and fruitful time. “Rev” has his roots deep in the Coast where for many years before coming to New York, he was the outstanding Negro labor leader in a vast area that stretches from San Diego to Seattle. He was leader of the MCS, and was closely associated with the struggles of the International Longshoremen’s and Warehousemen’s Union—the men who keep the cargo moving on the docks and in the huge warehouses of the coastal cities and whose president, Harry Bridges, is one of the finest union leaders of our day.
For “Rev” it was like old home week as we sat with his old colleagues in informal bull sessions which got to the heart of the problem the MCS and all unions face; strengthening the bond of unity between its Negro and white members.
The problem can be simply stated:
(1) The union faces the combined attacks of government agencies and greedy waterfront employers because of its unrelenting fight for the economic rights of its members and its progressive, pro-peace program.
(2) The union can only withstand these attacks if the membership stands solid behind a militant, uncompromising leadership.
(3) This solid unity of the membership depends more than ever on a new kind of fight against Jim Crow, not only in union affairs and contract negotiations, but in every aspect of American life.
For the Negro members know that their people are now suffering the most brutal and calculated oppression in recent memory—legal lynching, police brutality, arson, bombings, mob violence—all manner of insult and injury—and they are looking to the union not only as the guarantor of their “pork chops” but as a special defender of their rights and their very lives as well.
After one of those all-night sessions, I came away with the feeling that the MCS will certainly settle this question in the right way. And the main reason for this confidence is the splendid group of Negro leaders—men like Joe Johnson, Charlie Nichols and Al Thibodeaux—who combine with their sterling leadership in the general affairs of the union a constant battle to win the entire membership for actions, not just words, around the vital problems that face the hemmed-in, hard-pressed Negro communities of the nation. They are important figures in labor circles who have refused to become so “integrated” that they could forget their beginnings and their main strength—among the masses of their people. We need more labor leaders like them, and like ILWU’s Bill Chester, throughout the land.
Of all my connections with working men and women, there is none of which I am more proud than my honorary membership in MCS. I shall always cherish fond memories of the convention in the Fillmore district of San Francisco, of the wonderful audience of union men, their wives and friends, for whom I had the honor to sing and speak.
But here again, the main drama of the convention was to be found not only in the public mass meetings, but in the working sessions, committee meetings, national council discussions, and caucuses which hammered out a fighting program, security, and equality. And I mean real equality, not just the paper kind!
It would be hard for MCS to have any other kind of program and survive. Fully 40 per cent of its membership is Negro and more than 60 per cent of the convention delegates were colored members. The convention took place during the last stirring days in the world-wide struggle to save the life of Willie McGee. And it was a reassuring sign to see the men from the ships “hit the deck” in the Golden Gate Commandery Hall, owned by Macedonia Baptist Church, and vow vengeance against the lynchers.
Most important the key white leaders of the union, Hugh Bryson, president, and Eddie Tangen, secretary-treasurer, recognized that their special responsibility was, not simply to ride the wave of indignation and red-hot militancy of the Negroes, but, above all, to lead the white membership to an understanding of its stake in the fight for Negro freedom.
For one thing is becoming clearer every day. If the Negro’s struggle for liberation is crushed under the hammer blows of American racists, the whole labor movement will go down with it. The racist and the labor-hater have the same face—big business. The industrialist and plantation owner who want to return Negroes to slavery also want to return all labor to the sweatshop. And if white workers want to keep their unions and their hard-won rights they’d better move fast to see that Negro Americans gain their long-lost liberties.
That’s the lesson of Hitler Germany which we must never forget and which I never tire of telling American working men and women. The labor leaders who stood aside in the early thirties and saw six million Jews set upon were soon, themselves, in exile, in the good earth, or—if their knees were flexible enough and their souls craven enough—in Hitler’s phony “labor front.”
And no sooner had Hitler crushed the natural opposition to his outlandish campaign to “stop Communism,” save “Western civilization,” and preserve “Aryan supremacy,” than he plunged Germany and the world into the holocaust of World War II.
Then it was not merely the Jews or the working class of Europe that suffered, but all mankind—men and women; tall and short; black, brown, yellow and white; Mason, Pythian, and Elk; businessman, intellectual and professional Catholic, Methodist, Presbyterian, and Baptist—hard shell and soft shell, too!
How well should this history of our times be remembered! Today’s would-be Hitlers are not in Germany; they are right here in the United States. They would extend the Korean war (under the banner of Confederate flags!) to the whole continent of Asia by refusing to make an honorable peace of equality with the 475 million Chinese people. Whether by the MacArthur or the Truman plan, it makes little difference—for they are both talking war, not peace; and the proud people of Asia are still “hordes” of “coolies” and “gooks” in their sight.
They would turn Africa—emerging from the status of a slave continent—into a blazing inferno in order to crush the independence movements on the West Coast, the Sudan and South Africa, and in order to increase the fabulous wealth which the Morgans, Firestones, Mellons, DuPonts and Rockefellers are extracting from the inexpressible subjugation and misery of our African brothers and sisters.
They would do all these things—if they could. To date they have been stopped in their tracks by the steel-like will of Asia’s millions, by the determined liberation struggles of Africa’s sons and daughters, by the stubborn resistance of the people of Europe who suffered most from Hitler’s maniacal plan—and by the fact that they are not alone in possession of “the bomb.”
More and more, however, the American war-minded madmen must feel the resistance of THEIR OWN COUNTRYMEN. They must be openly challenged and defeated, lest our country go down the shameful road along which Hitler led Germany to destruction and degradation.
There may be a few high-placed stooges in hand-me-down jobs who will try to get the Negro people to go along with the program of our would-be world conquerers. But they couldn’t be found at the MCS convention. Instead there were hard-working union men, talking and fighting for their people’s rights and for a decent life for all workingmen. They are emerging not only as union leaders, but as the rightful stewards of the affairs of our entire people in their community organizations. And one must mention the splendid women who are fighting by the side of their men in MCS and ILWU.
The convention was a sign that the resistance to war, poverty and prejudice is growing where it needs most to grow, among workingmen and women who have at stake in this struggle their whole future and that of their children. The focus of the struggle today is on whether we can force payment on the promises which have been made to the Negro people for 87 years—and never kept. If we don’t cash in on them, then the American promissory note of the good life, democratic government and human equality will be as phony as a nine dollar bill to everybody else.
The MCS convention meant to me that the Negro people have some wonderful allies in our job of seeing that there’s some “promise-keeping” done—but quick! It was sure good to be there!
“Here’s My Story,” Freedom, June 1951.
I have been in Detroit many times during my work in America. But never was there for quite such an occasion as the picnic Aug. 12 sponsored by the foundry workers of Ford Local 600, UAW, CIO.
During the recent visit I recalled previous contacts with the auto city. As an All-American football player just out of college, I played there with Fritz Pollard of Akron. Great sections of the Negro community came out, just as they turn out to see football and baseball stars there today. I had a brother who lived in Detroit—died there—and it was the first time he had seen me since I was a boy. I remember going around with him and later seeing the fellows from the fraternity.221
When I began my concert career, I always insisted that my management present me under the auspices of Miss Nellie Watts, the fine impresario in Detroit. And often in those days I sang in the churches of the Negro community
During the “Sojourner Truth” days I was there and spoke on many platforms before and after the riots. On the opening night of Othello there were very few rich folks in the audience. Nobody quite knew what had happened, but I saw that the Ford workers, Negro and white, had most of the seats, and it was a memorable opening.
In recent years, meetings and concerts for the Progressive Party, for our paper, FREEDOM, and on behalf of Rev. Charles Hill’s candidacy for the Common Council have kept me in close touch with friends in Detroit’s Paradise Valley.
But as I said, the union picnic was something else again. It took place at Paris Park, about 20 miles outside the city limits. About 7,000 men, women, and children attended and it was a real demonstration of the working people’s unity. Usually the various language groups in Detroit like to go off and have their picnics by themselves, and the Negro people do the same. But here all were joined together in an audience predominantly Negro but including large sections of whites of various backgrounds: Irish, like Pat Rice, Local 600 vice-president; Scotch, Slavic, and especially Italian-Americans who had turned out in great numbers to hear Vito Marcantonio.
Marcantonio made a tremendous contribution, I thought. Eloquent as usual, he spoke in the workers’ language and explained a good deal of what the present situation means to them in terms of bread and butter. He demolished the phony government “economic stabilization” program and showed that the way to win security is to fight for peace.
I sang some songs and spoke a good deal about the struggles of the Negro people. I was moved to pay tribute to the foundry workers who had sponsored the picnic with the backing of the entire local.
Under the leadership of Nelson Davis, a veteran unionist who was the organizer of the picnic, and others, the foundry workers have developed a unity which is the core of the progressive militancy of the entire local. And this unity is reflected among the general officers of the union: Carl Stellato, president; Pat Rice, vice-president; Bill Hood, secretary, and W. G. Grant, treasurer. These men know that they have to work together to defend the world’ largest local against the policies of UAW president Walter Reuther who, in his support of the Truman war program, would tie the workers to wage freezes, escalator clauses, and other gimmicks which lead to practical starvation and depression.
One of the great lessons for me was what the picnic meant in terms of the entire Negro community. I had a chance to go along with a number of the Negro labor leaders from Local 600 and meet with a group of Negro ministers. We met at the invitation of Rev. and Mrs. Ross and in their home. A number of clergymen were there including Rev. E. C. Williams and Rev. Charles H. Hill, who is running for the Common Council and spoke eloquently at the picnic.
It was wonderful to see militant, progressive labor coming to these religious leaders and saying, “We want to join with the ministry, leaders of our people, in a common struggle for our folk.” Well, the ministers said that is what they had been wanting to hear for a long, long time.
And we had a luncheon with the business men. Mr. Reuben Ray, the head of the Paradise Valley business men’s organization, called the group together and we discussed the necessity of small business and labor getting together. We talked about the forthcoming national convention of the Negro labor councils in Cincinnati and everybody agreed that our business community support this project. Because it is clear that whatever helps the Negro worker and strengthens his position in industry and in the unions will also help the Negro businessman who depends on him for a livelihood. And most important of all, all sections of the Negro community, business, labor, church, professionals, have a common struggle and goal—for full, equal citizenship and an end to Jim Crow now.
We had a long talk with one of the leading physicians and he regretted that we could not stay long enough to spend an evening with a group of the professional men and women in his magnificent home. Here was a man with a lively interest in social developments all over the world. He realized that in our search for freedom we must profit from the experiences of other oppressed and formerly oppressed peoples in lands far away.
Well, there it is. For the first time in all these years of visits to Detroit there were the real solid connections and possibilities of unity between all sections of the Negro people. And this was based on the strength demonstrated by the Negro workers, united with their white brothers and sisters, at a memorable labor picnic.
Everybody concerned was interested in our paper FREEDOM, and promised to help sell it and get subscriptions so that they may have a consistent voice in molding the unity which is emerging.
“Here’s My Story,” Freedom, September 1951.
Speech at convention of National Negro Labor Council, Cincinnati, Ohio, October 27, 1951, Daily World, April 8, 1976.
By Paul Robeson
We are here today to work out ways and means of finding jobs for colored actors and colored musicians, to see that the pictures and statues made by colored painters and sculptors are sold, to see that the creations of Negro writers are made available to the vast American public. We are here to see that colored scientists and professionals are placed in leading schools and universities, to open opportunities for Negro technicians, to see that the way is open for colored lawyers to advance to workers who had come out on strike that Negro workers might get equal wages.
In the theater I felt this years ago and it would interest you to know that the opening night of Othello in New York, in Chicago, in San Francisco (I never told this to the Guild), I told Langner he could have just one third of the house for the elite. I played the opening night of Othello to the workers from Fur, from Maritime, from Local 65.
Just the other night I sang at the Rockland Palace in the Bronx, to this people’s audience. We speak to them every night. To thousands. Somewhere, with the impetus coming from the arts, sciences and professions, there are literally millions of people in America who would come to hear us, the Negro artists. This can be very important. Marian Anderson, Roland Hayes, all of us started in the Baptist churches. I’m going right back there very soon. If you want to talk about audiences, I defy any opera singer to take those ball parks like Sister Tharpe or Mahalia Jackson. It is so in the Hungarian communities (I was singing to the Hungarian-Americans yesterday), the Russian-Americans, the Czech-Americans . . . all of them have their audiences stretching throughout this land.224
The progressive core of these audiences could provide a tremendous base for the future, a tremendous base for our common activity and a necessary base in the struggle for peace. These people must be won. We can win them through our cultural contributions. We could involve millions of people in the struggle for peace and for a decent world.
But, the final point. This cannot be done unless we as artists have the deepest respect for these people. When we say that we are people’s artists, we must mean that. I mean it very deeply. Because, you know, the people created our art in the first place.
Haydn with his folk songs—the people made it up in the first place. The language of Shakespeare—this was the creation of the English-speaking people; the language of Pushkin, the creation of the Russian people, of the Russian peasants. That is where it came from—a little dressed up with some big words now and then which can be broken down into very simple images.
So, in the end, the culture with which we deal comes from the people. We have an obligation to take it back to the people, to make them understand that in fighting for their cultural heritage they fight for peace. They fight for their own rights, for the rights of the Negro people, for the rights of all in this great land. All of this is dependent so much upon our understanding the power of this people, the power of the Negro people, the power of the masses of America, of a world where we can all walk in complete dignity.
Masses and Mainstream (January 1952): 7–14.
Officers and Members of the Council—Friends:
It’s good, so good, to be here—to enjoy once again the brotherhood and sisterhood of this great body of Negro working men and women, to share with you the dream of freedom, to plan with you for its achievenemt not in some distance but now, today.
I have been in many labor battles. It has seemed strange to some that, having attained some status and acclaim as an artist I should devote so much time and energy to the problems and struggles of working men and women.
To me, of course, it is not strange at all. I have simply tried never to forget the soil from which I spring.
Never to forget the rich but abused earth on the eastern coast of North Carolina where my father—not my grandfather—was a slave and where today many of my cousins and relatives still live in poverty and second-class citizenship.
Never to forget the days of my youth—struggling to get through school, working in brick yards, in hotels, on docks and riverboats, battling prejudice and proscription—inspired and guided forward by the simple yet grand dignity of a father who was a real minister to the needs of his poor congregation in small New Jersey churches, and an example of human goodness.
No, I can never forget 300-odd years of slavery and half-freedom; the long weary and bitter years of degradation visited upon our mothers and sisters, the humiliation and Jim Crowing of a whole people. I will never forget that the ultimate freedom—and the immediate progress of my people rest on the sturdy backs and the unquenchable spirits of the coal miners, carpenters, railroad workers, clerks, domestic workers, bricklayers, sharecroppers, steel and auto workers, cooks, stewards and longshoremen, tenant farmers and tobacco stemmers—the vast mass of Negro Americans from whom all talent and achievement rise in the first place.
If it were not for the stirrings and the militant struggles among these millions, a number of our so-called spokesmen with fancy jobs and appointments would never be where they are. And I happen to know that some of them will soon be looking around for something else to do. There’s a change taking place in the country, you know. My advice to some of this “top brass” leadership of ours would be: You’d better get back with the Folks—if it’s not already too late. I’m glad I never left them!
Yes, the faces and the tactics of the leaders may change every four years, or two, or one, but the people go on forever. The people—beaten down today, yet rising tomorrow; losing the road one minute but finding it the next; their eyes always fixed on a star of true brotherhood, equality and dignity—the people are the real guardians of our hopes and dreams.
That’s why the mission of the Negro Labor Councils is an indispensable one. You have set yourself the task of organizing the will-to-freedom of the mass of our people—the workers in factory and farm—and hurling it against the walls of oppression. In this great program you deserve—and I know you will fight to win the support and cooperation of all other sections of Negro life.
I was reading a book the other day in which the author used a phrase which has stuck in my memory. He said, “We are living in the rapids of history” and you and I know how right he is. You and I know that for millions all over this globe it’s not going to be as long as it has been.
Yes, we are living “in the rapids of history” and a lot of folks are afraid of being dashed on the rocks. But not us!
No, not us—and not 200 million Africans who have let the world know that they are about to take back their native land and make it the world’s garden spot, which it can be.
In Kenya, Old John Bull has sent in his troops and tanks, and has said Mau Mau has got to go. But Jomo Kenyatta, the leader of Kenya African Union, with whom I sat many times in London, has answered back. He says, “Yes, someone has got to go, but in Kenya it sure won’t be 6 million black Kenyans. I think you know who’ll be leaving and soon.”225
And, in South Africa there’ll be some changes made too. FREEDOM is a hard won thing. And, any time seven thousand Africans and Indians fill the jails of that unhappy land for sitting in “White Only” waiting rooms, for tearing down jim crow signs like those which are seen everywhere in our South, you know those folks are ready for FREEDOM. They are willing to pay the price.
The struggle in Africa has a special meaning to the National Negro Labor Council and to every worker in this land, white as well as Negro. Today, it was announced that the new Secretary of Defense will be Charles E. Wilson, President of the General Motors Corporation. General Motors simply happens to be one of the biggest investors in South Africa, along with Standard Oil, Socony Vacuum, Kennecott Copper, the Ford Motor Company, and other giant corporations.
You see, they are not satisfied in Alabama and Utah, auto workers in Detroit and Atlanta, oil workers in Texas and New Jersey. They want super duper profits at ten cents an hour wages, which they can get away with only if the British Empire, in one case, or the Malan Fascists, in another, can keep their iron heels on the black backs of our African brothers and sisters.
Now, I said more than three years ago that it would be unthinkable to me that Negro youth from the United States should go thousands of miles away to fight against their friends and on behalf of their enemies. You remember that a great howl was raised in the land. And I remember, only the other day, in the heat of the election campaign, that a group of Negro political figures pledged in advance that our people would be prepared to fight any war any time that the rulers of this nation should decide.
Well, I ask you again, should Negro youth take a gun in hand and join with British soldiers in shooting down the brave people of Kenya?
I talked just the other day with Professor Z. K. Mathews, of South Africa, a leader of the African National Congress, who is now in this country as visiting professor at Union Theological Seminary in New York.
Professor Mathews’ son is one of those arrested in Capetown for his defiance of unjust laws. I ask you, shall I send my son to South Africa to shoot down Professor Mathews’ son on behalf of Charles E. Wilson’s General Motors Corporation?
I say again, the proper battlefield for our youth and for all fighters for a decent life, is here; in Alabama, Mississippi, and Georgia; is here, in Cleveland, Chicago, and San Francisco; is in every city and at every whistle stop in this land where the walls of Jim Crow still stand and need somebody to tear them down.
Excerpts from an Address to the Annual Convention of the National Negro Labor Council, November 21, 1952, at Cleveland, Ohio, Paul Robeson Archives, Berlin, German Democratic Republic.
As a great organization of American workers, the United Auto Workers, prepares for its convention in Atlantic City this month, my mind goes back to many of the bitter labor battles which have made the union movement strong and won some measure of security and dignity for millions of working men and women.
Most precious of recollections is Cadillac Square, Detroit. It was my privilege to stand there and sing to thousands of auto workers, massed in a historic demonstration, as the CIO took over Ford’s.
These struggles have given me great strength and confidence, and added much to my understanding. I shall always consider it a major factor in the course which I have taken that on returning to America from abroad in the early days of the CIO, I plunged into the magnificent struggles of labor.
I had been prepared for this by my experiences abroad. In the Spanish trenches I saw workers give their lives in a struggle to soften fascism and maintain a popular democracy, only to be betrayed by U.S. big business interests who supported the butcher Franco—and still support him with the official sanction of the U.S. government!. Previously, in England, I had held long sessions with leaders of the Labor Party, and had traveled all over the British Isles, visiting with the Welsh miners, railwaymen, dock workers and textile workers—sharing their griefs and little triumphs, learning their songs, basking in the warmth of their generous friendship and hospitality.
I had learned, during these years, an important lesson: that the problems of workers the world over are much the same and that eventually, they must all find similar answers.
From the U.S. scene of the late Thirties and early Forties another lesson became crystal clear: as the union movement grew in strength and numbers, the fight for equal rights progressed apace. The organizing drives needed a strong phalanx of support from the whole Negro community—the church, civic, fraternal and social organizations—in short, all organized expressions of 15 million oppressed citizens. (It is not idle to recall these days how many organizing committees, faced with goon squads, city officials who were flunkies of Big Business, and a solid anti-union press, found sanctuary and their only meeting places in the confines of the Negro church!)
And thousands of white workers began to understand for the first time that in order to warrant the confidence placed in the labor movement by practically the entire people, they had to fight to overcome the crimes that had been committed against Negro workers for generations. They couldn’t fall for the old “divide and rule” trick and succeed in their battles with the employers. The union had to be for all workers or there would be—no union.
This was the spirit of the early days of CIO and it sorely needs reviving today. For labor faces a pitched battle, and the same sturdy alliance which brought CIO into being must be re-established and strengthened to preserve and extend its gains.
But the latest word is that Secretary of Labor Durkin is going to leave all decisions regarding Taft-Hartley up to Eisenhower—which means up to the billionaires who advise the president.
So far as Negroes are concerned there was a great Republican hue and cry before the elections that the General would treat everyone fairly, regardless of creed or color. But now there are anguished howls in our press because the White House has announced the appointment of secretaries, under-secretaries, assistant secretaries, ambassadors, bureau chief—and all the lush political plums are being allotted with not a Negro among them. The president has not even seen fit to continue the Truman practice of appointing a Negro to the United Nations delegation!
Yes, all signs point to the fact that labor’s needs and Negro rights will be expendable in the new administration unless a popular, fighting movement of great proportions develops throughout the land.
Of course, labor wants more than Taft-Hartley repeal, though that is the key. It wants and needs a better social security system, wage increases now, a real housing program, a national health insurance plan, an end to the restrictions on the right of free speech, and, most important, peace.
And Negroes’ goals, of course, extend far beyond a few political appointments. We want full equality—in work and play, in voting rights and school opportunities, in seeking private advancement and holding public office.
These are some of the reasons the UAW convention is so important. It can set the pace for the rest of labor. It can put new cement in the Negro-labor alliance by recognizing the rightful demands of its Negro members for long overdue places in its top councils of leadership; by stepping up the fight against job discrimination and for FEPC; by taking a forthright position on all questions affecting our struggle for equality in the nation; and, most important, by issuing a clarion call and taking steps to implement it, for a united labor drive to really organize the South.
That’s a big order. But nothing less will do if the labor movement is to live up to its responsibilities to its own membership and to the nation. Knowing thousands of rank and file members and a good section of the forward-looking leadership of this great union, I am confident they will not fail.
“Here’s My Story,” Freedom, March 1953.
It is always an occasion of great importance to me to take part in the activities of the National Negro Labor Council. My mind goes back to your great conventions—Chicago last year; Cleveland in 1952; the founding convention in Cincinnati in ’51; and even before that the great gathering of trade unionists in Chicago in June of 1950 which gave birth to the idea of a militant, mass organization of the Negro workers fighting courageously for their economic needs and for the rights of their entire people.
You said that this organization was called for because there was a crying need for somebody to pay consistent attention to the job problems of the breadwinners of our people. Somebody had to give top priority to the questions of discrimination in employment, FEPC, growing joblessness, and the shameful spectacle—in this nation which boasts of leading the so-called “Free World”—of not only single plants, but whole industries which eliminate Negroes either altogether or from the skilled, better-paying jobs. It was time, you said, not only to talk about being the last hired and first fired—but to do something about it.
And who could do this job for the Negro workers better than Negro working men and women themselves? The answer was obvious then, and is just as obvious now: “Who would be free, himself must strike the blow.”
Of course, you never sought to do the job alone. You knew that the initiative had to be yours, but you knew just as surely that your crusade had to involve thousands and eventually millions of others if it was going to succeed. And so you proclaimed a doctrine in Cincinnati that got right down to the heart of the matter, and that brought the delegates right up on their feet. You said, to paraphrase a slogan which has been the rule of your organizational existence, “We do not need or ask anybody’s permission to fight for our own livelihood, our own security, our own lives, but we seek everybody’s cooperation.”
You sought first of all the cooperation of the labor movement with its 15 million Negro and white workers in AFL, CIO and independent unions. And of equal importance, you sought the support and cooperation of the long-established organizations of Negro life—the church, our fraternal bodies, the NAACP, the Urban League and our business institutions.
And, realizing that cooperation is a two-way street, you offered the resources of your organization in support of those who were engaged on other fronts of the battle against Jim Crow. You could be counted on to join the mounting fight against segregation in education, housing, health, reaction—in all phases of American life.
But all the while you have kept your big guns turned on the fundamental issue—jobs and economic security for our people. You have realized that it’s on the production line that the whole ugly practice of segregation and discrimination bears its most bitter fruit; and that in the end the battle to lick Jim Crow in production will largely determine its fate everywhere else.
When the Dixiecrats decree that Negro and white children shall not go to school together they are preparing the ground for the day when they will not be allowed to work on the same machine together. When they decree that Negroes must ride in a hot, grimy railroad car—half baggage and half coach—while whites ride in air-conditioned comfort, they are setting the stage for public acceptance of the fact that Negroes can be porters and waiters—servants—on the railroads, but not engineers, conductors, trainmen and clerks.
Oh, yes, it’s at the point of production and at the pay-window of the American economy that Jim Crow pays off for those who love it most. It pays off in $4.5 billion every year in super-profits for the monopolies, sweated out of the toil-worn bodies of Negro workers.
That is why, though I manage to keep busy with many responsibilities, I always feel a special urgency to. do what I can to advance the program of the National Negro Labor Council. That is why I have said before, and repeat today, that whenever you call upon me for service I will be there, shoulder to shoulder with you, the finest sons and daughters of the Negro people and of the entire working population of this land.
That is precisly what I meant when, in 1947 at a concert in St. Louis, I announced that I would put aside my formal concert career for the time being to enter the day-to-day struggles of my people and the working masses of this country. I meant the struggle for our daily bread—such battles as I had been part of on the picket lines on the Mesabi iron ore range, with the auto workers in Cadillac Square, the gallant tobacco workers in Winston-Salem, the longshoremen, cooks and stewards in San Francisco, the furriers, electrical workers and a host of others.
No, of course. I’m not the only one who has recognized your importance and your potential. Among the first to pay tribute to you, in their own way, have been the traditional enemies of our people and of American democracy. They’ve complimented you by leveling against the NNLC and its leaders the most vicious and unprincipled attack.
Because you fight all-out for the rights of Negro workers they say you somehow endanger the nation’s security. That’s a lie.
Because you proclaim your solidarity with African and Asian workers and call for the independence of all colonial peoples they say you somehow betray our national interests. That’s a lie.
Because you preach the truth—that the Negro’s well-being is served by peace, not war, by building schools, homes, and roads, not guns, tanks and bombs—they say you lack patriotism. And that’s a lie.
They would like to hound you out of business if possible—discredit your leaders, make you register with the so-called Subversive Activities Control Board, stop you from publishing literature, holding meetings, arousing the nation in support of your program.
They’d like to shut you up while Talmadge defies the Supreme Court on segregated education and spouts his arrogance over nationwide radio and TV hookups, and while a new rash of hate groups, including the recently formed National Association for the Advancement of White People, flood the mails with filthy “white supremacy” propaganda.
But here you are meeting today—a fighting, democratic organization, determined that “just like the tree that’s planted by the water, you shall not be moved.”
And while I know that nobody in this room has ever had any doubt but that you’d be here, I think this is a fitting moment to say that the NNLC—despite all the attacks, including a few from leaders of our own people who should know better—despite the difficult times we’ve had, always with insufficient money and often with little encouragement—despite all this the NNLC is needed today more than ever, and our best days lie just ahead of us.
I think I know how great the need is. For I live in Harlem, and as I sit in the parish house of my brother’s church Mother AME Zion, and as I walk up and down the avenues or visit with friends, the signs of hard times are everywhere. In New York State the production index has dropped 10 per cent in the past year and unemployment insurance claims have steadily risen.
Even in so-called “good times” the vast majority of Negro workers live at a bare subsistence level. Our family income is still—after all the economic “progress” of the World War II period—just one-half the family income of white workers. And when the firing starts Negroes—by statistical count—lose their jobs twice as fast as anybody else.
What’s true of New York is doubly true of the major industrial centers in Pennsylvania, the Middle West and the West Coast. The president of the United Steelworkers of America recently announced at their convention that one out of every three steelworkers in the nation is either out of work or working part-time. And it’s difficult to pick up a newspaper without reading that a couple of auto plants have merged and “merged” a few thousand workers out of jobs; or that another company has “retooled” thousands more onto the breadlines.
It’s enough that the Eisenhower administration started out by giving away our national wealth in tideland oil, public power and tax concessions to the monopolies, but when they start taking away our jobs and telling us that the pain in our stomachs is not really hunger but imagination, then it’s really time for something drastic to be done.
I’m glad that you raised your voice with that of the labor movement, and I know that you are unique in Negro life, in putting forward a comprehensive anti-depression program to stem the downward trend of the economy and provide jobs for the unemployed.
It seems to me that instead of giving the AFL a political lecture, as he did at their convention, Secretary of Labor Mitchell ought to be forced to say where he stands on the AFL proposal for a billion dollar appropriation for building public schools as a part of the implementation of the Supreme Court ruling against segregation.
And when it comes to housing—why we could use the 300,000 housing units authorized annually in the administration bill among Negroes alone and we’d still be in a terrible fix for a decent place to live.
Another way to fortify our economy against depression would be to open the doors to two-way worldwide trade, which means specifically trade with China, the Eastern European democracies, and the Soviet Union. But, oh no, says our government, we don’t like their politics. Well, I’m not here to say we must like the politics of these nations, for that’s not necessary for normal commercial relations. But isn’t it true that our government fosters trade with fascist Spain and with Malan’s South Africa. So if politics is to be the yardstick in international trade it means that the U.S. government is saying to 15,000,000 Negroes that it approves the politics of the most oppressive, racist dictatorship on the face of the globe today.
Of course, the embargo on trade with China, dictated by McCarthy, Knowland and the China Lobby, is having an opposite effect from that intended. They think that by embargoing China they will starve the government out and eventually get the discredited Chiang Kai Shek off the little island of Taiwan (Formosa) and back into business as an American puppet on the mainland.226
But China’s trade and economy and well-being are constantly expanding. Trade delegations are constantly going to and from Britain and many other Western nations, excluding only the United States among the great powers. And the ones to feel the brunt of the policy are the American workers who, instead of walking the streets in search of work, could be making the tractors, farm implements, tools and structural steel which New China needs and is ready to buy.
Of course, a comprehensive program for the economic welfare of Negroes depends not only on fighting to hold on to what we have and to prevent unemployment. If that were the extent of our program we’d always remain at the bottom rung of the ladder.
We must always be breaking new ground. And you couldn’t have picked a better place to break it than on the nation’s railroads. Railroad men have always played a big part in the life and legend of our people. John Henry would certainly be proud to know that you are launching a campaign to guarantee that hiring will be color blind on the railroads which he and his fellow workers built.
This campaign should stir Negro life and the nation as few crusades in the past. Every Negro leader who has worked for awhile carrying bags or waiting table while preparing for his career ought to lend the weight of his prestige to your efforts. For instance, Dr. Ralph Bunche once worked on the railroad to help pay his way through school. Now, as long as Negroes are barred from the skilled trades in the industry the implication is plain that the man who holds the highest position of any American in the United Nations is unfit to collect tickets, or yell All Aboard or turn the throttle on an American railroad—because he is a Negro.
I hope that Dr. Bunche and many other outstanding Negroes who at one time labored in the dirty end of railroading will consider this an insult to them personally as well as to their entire people and will throw their weight behind the Council in this campaign.
But not only are there those who once worked on the roads. There are the thousands of Negroes who work there now. They enjoy a highly respected position in our communities throughout the nation. Their activities touch on the lives of the millions of our people. They are to be found in every church, lodge, club and society. It is here that we must take our message, spread our pamphlets and other literature, secure signatures for the petition to Vice President Nixon and the Contract Compliance Committee. If this campaign is taken to the bed rock of Negro life, to the heart of our organizational activities, there is no question in my mind but that we’ll stir this nation, place the railroad magnates on the spot where they belong, and wind up with some Negroes driving trains as well as sweeping them, selling tickets as well as buying them, giving orders as well as taking them.227
Fight we must, on this front and on many others if we are to restore and expand this democracy of ours. I know we’ll win and I intend to keep on fighting until we do.
Speech at meeting of the National Council of the National Negro Labor Council, Hotel Theresa, New York City, September 25, 1954, Paul Robeson Archives, Berlin, German Democratic Republic.
Chicago Defender, November 24, 1951.
67. MEANY VOWS FIGHT ON BIAS WHEN LABOR’S RANKS UNITE229
AFL Head’s Pledge Gets Backing of Reuther’s Aide at Conference
By Stanley Levey
New York Times, February 27, 1955.