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Negroes – the War – Jobs – and Democracy

(26 April 1943)

From Labor Action, Vol. 7 No. 17, 26 April 1943, p. 2.
Transcribed & marked up by Einde O’ Callaghan for the Encyclopaedia of Trotskyism On-Line (ETOL).

The American Negro is being asked to participate in what he is told is a struggle for democracy and against fascism. American Negroes see this vast struggle going on. They read the papers. They see almost every nation under arms and sending its youth and old men to the front: the yellow people of the East, the brown people of India, the black colonials of Africa and the white races of Europe and America. They read about and see armed men marching. They hear the hum of the mines and factories. The farmers plant every square foot to produce more food. These are the arsenals of democracy the Negro is told; it is a war for democracy.

The Negro in the United States is examining this picture and evaluating the claims of those who pretend to give him advice on how he should act. He wants to know: do they speak the truth, can Negroes believe what they are being told? The Negro wants to find out what is happening, in practice, right here in the United States, and what is the hope for the future.

We agree that the Negro must do this because he is being asked, along with other races and people, to close ranks, lend a hand, co-operate. Everybody wants the Negro to answer the call for national unity. This is urged on the ground that the interests of all the people are the same. Everyone is faced with the same danger and the identical peril, rich and poor, white and black.

The Negro, along with others, is being called, upon to sacrifice, not only many of the material things to which people have become accustomed, but many of the so-called rights and privileges to which we have become accustomed. In the face of the demands being made on them, Negroes certainly have the right to inquire and investigate how they are faring.

Negroes are certainly willing to fight for democracy. They have proved in the past that they are willing to die for democracy. For 300 years Negroes have been fighting and dying for democracy right here in the United States! Therefore, the struggle for democracy is nothing new to Negroes. On the day that the first Negroes set foot on American soil in 1619, the struggle for democracy, liberty and freedom began. This struggle has continued without abatement through all the decades and centuries since.

That is really what all the slave rebellions were about. They were struggles for democracy. They were struggles against the concentration camps of that day. That’s what Gabriel, Denmark Vesey, Nat Turner were doing when the organized the black slaves and led them forth to battle against their masters and oppressors. It was her love of democracy that induced that glorious old Negro woman, Harriet Tubman, to take her shotgun in hand, go into the South and lead Negro men and women to freedom. It was love of democracy that caused her to become a spy for the Union army, and be commissioned for some of the most dangerous missions.

It was democracy that Frederick Douglas was talking about in his great anti-slavery speeches. It was his fight for democracy that caused him to be hounded and hunted from place to place. It was in the name of democracy that the free Negro, Walker, thundered his courageous anti-slavery editorials in his paper. It was the struggle for democracy that led John Brown to a gallows at Harpers Ferry in 1859. It was democracy that Julia Ward Howe was calling for when she talked about the “terrible, swift sword,” the “lightning of a hundred circling camps,” and the place where “the grapes of wrath are stored.”

Churchill talks about blood, sweat and tears. Negros know something about this, too. There is nothing that Churchill can teach them here. Negroes have gone through centuries of blood, sweat and tears for democracy: for the right to live and work and play like other people. For the right to be free from insult, discrimination and Jim Crow.

But Negroes haven’t reached the Promised Land yet. There is still segregation and Jim Crow everywhere. The federal government practices Jim Crow, and so does every governmental sub-division in the United States. Negroes are denied jobs in the war industries, and, when they are hired, they are segregated and discriminated against. Negro boys go into the Army and are Jim Crowed and maltreated.

Public places all over the country continue their old practices of insult and discrimination. Lynching and mob rule continue. They’re doing business at the same old stand in the same old way.

All this goes on while the Negro is told that this is a war for democracy and freedom. Freedom for whom, and democracy for whom? Surely not for the Negro!

What did Mr. Churchill mean when he said that he did not take office to sit in at the death of the British Empire? What did Mr. Witherow mean when he said that we are not fighting this war to supply a quart of milk for every Hottentot?

Is Mr. Churchill fighting the war for the perpetuation of the British Empire? If so, what does this mean? It can only mean the perpetuation of the subjugation of the Indians, and the continuation of the slavery of millions of black Africans for the benefit of the British ruling class What does Mr. Witherow want the Hottentots, or the American Negroes, to get out of this war? Only what they have been getting in the past!

Negroes have been fighting for democracy for 300 years here in the United States. Why shouldn’t they continue? What reason is there that white people who believe in democracy should not aid in this struggle: the trade unions, for instance? If it is a war for democracy, then Negroes can really give of their vast experience and demonstrate how it should be done. We can try it out here in the United States; and, if successful here, we can take it to Poland, Czechoslovakia, Africa, Germany, Greece, Italy and all the islands of the Pacific.

How can this be done? What will be the proof? We suggest the following:

  1. Elimination of all Jim Crow, segregation and discrimination by federal, state and city governments. Negroes to hold any and all jobs where qualified. This would apply to the Cabinet and Supreme Court and any state or city post. No Jim Crow of any kind in the Army or Navy. This must mean: no separate Army or Navy units, ships or schools.
  2. Elimination of all Jim Crow and discrimination in industry. Negroes to be hired and promoted just like all other workers.
  3. No discrimination in federal, state or city housing projects.
  4. No discrimination of any kind in public places.
  5. These demands to become operative in the South, the same as in the North.

These are modest demands. They are all covered by the Declaration of Independence and the Constitution.

We don’t see how any white man or Negro who believes in democracy can object to them. We fail to understand how any nation that claims to be fighting for democracy can withhold these rights and privileges from fifteen million of its citizens.

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Last updated: 23 May 2015