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David Coolidge

Among the Negroes, as Among the Whites,
There Are Two Classes: Worker and Boss

David Coolidge Writes from the Field on the Negro Struggle

(3 February 1941)

From Labor Action, vol. 5 No. 5, 3 February 1941, p. 3.
Transcribed & marked up by Einde O’ Callaghan for the Encyclopaedia of Trotskyism On-Line (ETOL).

One of the outstanding features of the tour, that I am taking is what seems to be unmistakable evidence of the development of a class line between the Negro worker and the upper class Negro. I am talking about What is known among Negroes as the “big Negro,” These are the Negroes who are in the bigger Negro businesses, the politicians, government officeholders, professional people and the like. Of course Negro workers have not escaped entirely the clutches of these parasites but the beginning of the breakaway is certainly underway.

Increasing trade union consciousness on the part of the Negro is partially responsible for this. The progress of the CIO among Negroes has aided in the process. Furthermore the teaching of revolutionaries has undoubtedly left its mark. Negroes, however slowly, are beginning to understand that most of the so-called Negro leaders use them just about in the same way that they are used by the white leaders. That is, the Negro politicians are after votes and jobs; the Negro professional people are after fees; the Negro businessmen are after profits. They use Jim-Crow and segregation as a base for exploitation and profit taking the same as the whites.

These Are the Rich

In a western city, I talked to an old friend, a Negro who is president of a rather substantial Negro insurance company. He, was a Willkieite and talked about the national situation and Roosevelt just as the white businessmen I listened to on the train. “Roosevelt is strangling business. He is ruining the country with the relief and WPA program.” I pointed out that the business people seemed to being doing very nicely under Mr. Roosevelt and that he was really put into office by that section of the ruling class who knew the time had come to make a few concessions to the workers. This didn’t impress my friend who wanted to know where I got the information from that business was making big profits. He being a big business man, I modestly and diffidently replied that one could get such information from the daily papers or certain business journals.

I talked to a Negro woman in another city, who is a social worker, but who on the side has amassed about $250,000 dollars from gasoline stations which she operates. She too was a Willkieite who is certain that the country is going to the devil during the present third term.

I also talked to a Negro who is a social worker in another city. He is for the same end as the socialists (meaning the Workers Party), but he is against our methods. “You want to overthrow the government,” he said to me. To be sure this man wants neither the government nor capitalism overthrown. He is doing very well thank you. I ate a meal at his house. I also ate a meal in a Negro sharecropper’s house. My friend the social worker had a cook who served the meal. It was a gorgeous dinner with good table linen and silverware. The food was excellent and the best. There was wine and liquor.

And Then the Poor

The meal I ate in the humble cabin of the sharecropper was sow belly, black eye peas, cornbread and very poor creamless coffee. The food of my friend, the social worker, was supplied by white businessmen who support this particular institution organized to give “not alms but opportunity” to Negroes. The sow belly of the sharecropper came from his own hard toil in the cotton fields owned by the same kind of men who gave my social work friend his fine table linen, liquors and ham. The cotton that these white businessmen give him to clothe his body with is produced by these same sharecroppers who spend their entire lives in nakedness and hunger.

It has been the same everywhere; a few Negroes living in splendor, plenty and elegance (just like the masses of Negroes grubbing for the whites of the same class) and the barest necessities of life just like the poor whites.

Learn What It Means

I had an interesting experience in one city. I met a Negro CIO voluntary organizer in a certain Negro social work institution. I talked to him in a rather guarded manner and left. Later he called me and said that he had a feeling that I wanted to say something to him that could not be said in front of the social worker. He was correct. We made an appointment for the next day and and had a two hour conversation about his work and the way out for Negroes. Here was a Negro who works as a volunteer organizer for the CIO and has spent some of his own money to get Negroes into the organization. He isn’t making any money from white businessmen saving Negroes.

There are many more of these incidents that could be told but this is enough. Negroes are learning what all this means: They are learning, slowly it is true, that a Negro is not just a Negro no more than a white man is just a white man. They are learning that there are really two groups of Negroes just as there are two groups of whites. They are beginning to understand that a Negro insurance company president is no more interested in them being cared for when sick or buried when they die, than is the president of the white insurance company. Both of these presidents, the black and the while are interested in the amount of money that is paid into the company; that is in the profits that come from selling insurance. This process will continue until the Negro worker becomes class conscious and not race conscious.

Workers Understand

It has been very plain also that it is the so-called leading Negroes who are the patriots among the colored people. I have spoken to Negro audience s and to Negroes in mixed audiences. I have held smaller conferences with Negroes. These meetings have not been large of course; that is not in the thousands, but I have yet to have a Negro worker express any patriotic sentiment whatsoever. They have listened intently through long speeches and long replies to questions asked. In one meeting of about 90 Negroes I spoke a total of nearly three hours and no one left the meeting.

I have reported on the meeting with the sharecroppers. There they insisted on keeping the meeting going after we had suggested that they should get to bed because of the next day’s work. On all of these occasions the speeches were openly and frankly revolutionary calling for the overthrow of capitalism as the only solution to the evils that beset Negro as well as white workers. No one should think that they did not understand. They did understand We saw to that. The sharecroppers understood, the steel workers, the packinghouse workers, the porters, the janitors and the Negro women. The Negro young people understood and many of them will join our party.

On the whole question of the war it has not been difficult to make these Negro workers understand what a piece of fakery it is; what a bloody fraud is about to be unleashed upon them in the name of a democracy they have never known or experienced.

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