F. Forest

Roosevelt Whitewashed at FEPC Meeting
but Audience Senses Need for More Effective Action

(February 1944)

First published: Labor Action, Vol. 8 No. 7, 14 February 1944, p. 4.
Transcription/Mark-up: Einde O’Callaghan for the Marxists’ Internet Archive.

NEW YORK – The National Council for a Permanent Fair Employment Practice Commission held a public rally in Town Hall on Monday, February 7. The Rev. Allan Knight Chalmers, co-chairman of the Council with A. Philip Randolph, presided over the meeting, at which there were no less than twenty-nine speakers. Unfortunately, the twenty-nine speakers included only two trade union representatives: Mr. Minkoff of the International Ladies Garment Workers Union, AFL, and Mr. Wolchok of the United Retail, Wholesale & Department Store Employees, CIO.

A Bad Bill

The National Council for a Permanent FEPC is urging passage of the Scanlon-Dawson-Coffee-LaFollette Bill (H.R. 3986), which would forbid discrimination in employment because of race, religion or nationality. However, the bill would also permit the meddling of the government into the practices of labor unions.

Readers of Labor Action know that we have been consistent fighters against all discriminatory practices against Negroes or other minority groups, and have urged labor to lead the nation in the fight against discrimination. But we do not want the government meddling in union affairs.

The government itself does not have clean hands. Its Army and Navy are the greatest offenders in this respect. Yet not a single speaker, including the Socialist, Norman Thomas, had a word to say about the necessity to eliminate that clause from the bill. On the contrary, the representative from the Workers Defense League openly, and the other speakers implicitly, urged the passage of the bill in its entirety.

Whitewashing Roosevelt

Representative Scanlon, one of the authors of the bill and one of the major speakers at this rally, revealed just exactly how tied this whole commission is to the Roosevelt regime. Mr. Scanlon’s entire speech was a complete whitewash of the very man who heads the most vicious anti-Negro party in the South – the Democratic Party, to which Mr. Scanlon also belongs. Listening to Scanlon, one would have thought that it was not Roosevelt’s, “white man’s” Democratic Party that ruled the Jim Crow South, nor that it was Roosevelt himself who is Commander-in-Chief of a Jim Crow Army and Navy and Air Force, but some unidentified villain.

But right there on the same platform with Representative Scanlon was a Negro nurse who stated that the fight for the employment of Negro nurses in the United States Army has gone on since 1941, but up to date there are only 202 Negro nurses in the armed forces. The government’s SOS for student nurses must sound hollow indeed to these trained nurses fighting to get work in this “democratic” Army.

Mr. Scanlon, on the other hand, claimed that no less than one million Negroes were “integrated into the war effort.” He did not cite proof of this nor could he have, unless by “integrated into the war effort” he meant, not working in basic industries, but as soldiers in a Jim Crow Army.

Mr. Scanlon did, however, admit that those who were “integrated into the war effort” unfortunately occupied menial jobs. He failed to explain why it is that the President, if he is serious about his Executive Order 8802, “reaffirming the policy of the United States that there shall be no discrimination in the employment of workers in defense industries or in government because of race, creed, color or national origin,” failed so much as to send a follow-up letter to his government agencies, asking why they were not putting the order into effect. Yet Representative Scanlon called the order nothing less than the “Emancipation Proclamation of the Twentieth Century.”

But, just as the Emancipation Proclamation only technically freed the Negroes while it kept them bound to the Southern plantation economy as semi-serfs, so the present Executive Order 8802 is not effective in bringing the mass of qualified Negroes into basic industry, and where they already work there, does nothing about upgrading them.

How the Audience Felt

The reactions of the audience, though it was mainly middle class rather than working class, were quite instructive.

This was particularly noticeable in its attitude toward the speech of Roy Wilkins, assistant secretary of the NAACP. In appealing for funds to work for the passage of H.R. 3986, he pointed to the fact that the NAACP has been urging the passage of an anti-lynching bill for a quarter of a century and is still unsuccessful. However, he felt the tide of public opinion was turning against lynching. And then, regarding the stimulation of discussion about the rights of Negroes, he said, “There is nothing to stimulate discussion as a riot here and there.” There was applause.

Mr. Wilkins quickly added that, of course, he did not advocate riots, and most assuredly was opposed to anyone in the audience ever rioting.

But the fact that this petty bourgeois Negro leader and the preponderantly petty bourgeois audience felt the effectiveness of direct action, was very significant. It. showed that if Negro leaders really wished to lead a militant struggle, against discrimination, not, of course, via so-called riots, but in such mass actions as a March on Washington, they would have both the Negro masses and white labor behind them.


Last updated on 12 August 2015