American capitalism and its democratic pretensions have received a serious jolt from the Negro people in the United States. Following the Czechoslovakian events [The Stalinist Coup of February 1948] . President Truman gave the signal for a leap in war preparations under the banner of “democracy and freedom.’’
At this critical moment for US propaganda, A. Philip Randolph and Grant Reynolds made a declaration to the Senate Committee on Military Affairs that unless segregation in the armed forces was ended, they would summon the Negroes to a civil disobedience campaign on the Gandhi model. They would call upon Negroes to go to jail rather than be inducted into another Jim-Crow army. They would ask whites to do the same in solidarity against the flagrant violation of democracy by the Federal Government in maintaining its Jim-Crow army.
They repeated their defiance at later sessions, informing the Senate Committee that they would sell buttons advocating their proposal on the Capitol steps and in front of the White House. They would issue cards, asking the public to pledge themselves not to join a Jim-Crow army.
Randolph was able to make such a declaration with telling effect. After World War I he was founder and editor of the Messenger, a periodical that preached Socialism to the Negro people. When this failed he turned to union organization, and in the face of great difficulty, established a union of the Pullman porters of which he remains the leader, and, as such, the most prominent Negro member of the American Federation of Labor.
In 1941 he placed himself at the head of what became the March-On-Washington Movement, which burst out of the bitterness and frustration of the Negro people at the discrimination against them in the industrial mobilization for the war. President Roosevelt at once recognized the significance of this movement. He personally and officially brought tremendous pressure to bear on Randolph. To the rage of many of his closest supporters Randolph called off the march in return for Executive Order 8802, establishing the Federal Fair Employment Practices Committee.
The movement thereupon rapidly declined. Randolph had done the bourgeoisie a great service at a critical time. But the Negro protest was not so easily subdued. Two years later it burst forth in the Harlem demonstrations. This protest crystallized around two main issues: the price-gouging and shoddy goods sold in Harlem and the continued segregation in the army.
New Wave of Negro Revolt
Today this rebelliousness has found a new point of concentration against Jim Crow by the Federal Government itself in new legislation for enlarging the armed forces. The declaration of Randolph and Reynolds was made in terms of ringing defiance. The political consequences have been immediate. The dangerous temper of the millions of Negroes is underestimated neither by the bourgeoisie nor by the Negro leaders.
Secretary of Defense Forrestal summoned a group of Negro leaders to the Army Pentagon Building and asked for their cooperation and advice on how to improve the situation of Negroes within a segregated army. He was quite blunt about stating that segregation had to continue. Most of the practiced Negro misleader’s were there, including Lester Granger, Dr. Channing Tobias, Mordecai Johnson, President of Howard University, Roy Wilkins of the NAACP, Negro bishops, business men, etc.
Threatened in their rear by the forces ranged behind Randolph and Reynolds, these Negro leaders refused pointblank to cooperate with the War Department. They would have nothing to do with any segregated army. Dr. Channing Tobias, member of the Truman Committee on Civil Rights, told the press later that he would oppose any further special committee meetings for Negroes just as he would oppose special meetings for Indians, Chinese, Norwegians, or any other groups of American citizens.
When asked if any of them opposed Randolph, not a single voice was raised. In fact Lester Granger opened the press conference with the following statement:
“The contents of these (Randolph and Reynolds) statements (on Civil Disobedience) are well known to all of us here. The statement of Mr. Randolph has been warmly praised by what may easily be the majority of Negroes throughout the country, who have all along thought what Mr. Randolph has announced publicly. The statements have also been criticized by some who are apprehensive regarding the long-range implications and results of such a position as it advises.”
However; when the Randolph statement was first made, most of these Negro leaders condemned it. Only a few short weeks have convinced them that if they join the Jim-Crow government against Randolph, they run the risk of being repudiated by the Negro people, which means they would not even be of much use to the government. This, and nothing else but this, is the cause of the stiffened stand they have taken.
All this has happened without any mass mobilization or even as yet any mass organization around the issue. It is clear that fear of the response of the Negro masses has placed the government in a terrible dilemma. It must now either find a new group of Negroes to shepherd the Negroes into support of the war or else make concessions which will enable some of the old ones to do the old dirty work under the new conditions.
On the other side, there is the question of Truman’s relations with the Southern Bloc in his own [Democratic] party. Truman calculated that the Negro vote in the North and West held the balance of power in areas which controlled twice as many electoral votes as the Solid South. His Civil Rights Program was aimed at gaining these votes, despite the rage of his Southern section.
Now, however, the administration is dealing, not with campaign promises, but with an explosive movement. The Southern leaders never allowed Roosevelt to give even verbal support to any measure such as a Federal anti-lynching bill which would unsettle the social relations in the South so precariously held together by legal and illegal terror. For the present administration to sponsor a bill on selective service which would specifically denounce Jim-Crow in the army might well be a breaking-point for the South.
More is involved than the question of a few white regiments in New York and Pennsylvania. This demand challenges the whole social set-up in the South. That is why not only Forrestal and Secretary of the Army Royall but Eisenhower himself have refused to accept any modification of military Jim-Crow.
Effects on Presidential Campaign
The presidential boom for Eisenhower is already damaged by his stand. The Negro press has denounced him from end to end. Two months ago [former Vice President Henry] Wallace [“Third party” candidate for President in the upcoming 1948 election] drew the largest political meeting ever held in Harlem. Wallace can afford to promise anything, and his own shabby record on the Negro question and the weakness here of Truman, his main target, push Wallace toward the most unbridled demagogy on this issue. Wallace has demanded the resignation of Secretaries Forrestal and Royall for continuing Jim-Crow in the army.
Wallace’s recruiting agents of the Stalinist party have come out against Randolph’s proposal. They feel they cannot control this movement. Randolph is a bitter enemy of Stalinism and the Stalinists from the Social-Democratic stand-point. He took great pains to exclude them from the March-On-Washington Movement and his testimony before the Senate shows that he proposes to exclude them from this new movement also. The Stalinists fear that the pro-Wallace movement among the Negroes may be deflected toward Randolph.
Furthermore, any direct mass action by the Randolph-led movement would at once put Wallace to a stern test. He would have to declare himself on it instead of merely denouncing Truman.
Shabby Role of Liberals
The liberals are silent, for the most part, looking another way. The New Leader, however, has taken the side of the bourgeoisie. The war, it says, will be fought for the rights of everybody, including the Negro. The Negro leaders should therefore not embarrass, the government at this time. The late Senator Bilbo would have loved to read these Social-Democratic preachments.
Republican congressmen immediately warned Randolph that his proposal was treason. But the Republican Party and its candidates all pretend that the problem is Truman’s, not theirs.
As yet, the official labor movement has not said one word. But no silence can evade the violence of the clash between the Negro masses and the administration, symbolized in the meeting of Forrestal and the Negro leaders. The situation can be manipulated in the traditional tricky bourgeois manner only upon one condition, that the Negro masses remain quiet – and that is the most unlikely of alternatives. A mass movement among the Negro people supporting Randolph’s disobedience to the Jim-Crow draft or a protest movement unloosed by the trial and imprisonment of Randolph and others can easily shake the whole bourgeois political structure.
World in Review: Randolph’s Drive Against Army Jim Crow
Fourth International, New York, May 1948