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David Coolidge

A Phony Negro “Bill of Rights”

(26 June 1944)

From Labor Action, Vol. 8 No. 26, 26 June 1944, p. 3.
Transcribed & marked up by Einde O’ Callaghan for the Encyclopaedia of Trotskyism On-Line (ETOL).

A Declaration by Negro Voters has been issued by the leaders of twenty-five organizations. In their declaration these Negro leaders claim to express the opinions of the Negroes in the United States on the question of the war, political parties and candidates, imperialism and Jim Crow. The leaders who issue this declaration come from a variegated group of organizations such as Negro college sororities and fraternities, the African Methodist Episcopal Zion Church, the African Methodist Episcopal Church, Brotherhood of Sleeping Car Porters, National Maritime Union, Negro Elks, NAACP and the Council on African Affairs.

The second sentence in the declaration states that

“Political parties and candidates that seek the votes of Negroes must be committed to the wholehearted prosecution of the war to total victory, must agree to the elimination of the poll-tax by act of Congress, the passage of anti-lynching legislation, the unsegregated integration of Negroes into the armed forces, the establishment of a permanent federal committee on fair employment practices, and a foreign policy of international cooperation that promotes economic and political security for all peoples.”

Another paragraph tells us that

“The Negro people, like all other Americans, recognize the war as the chief issue confronting the country. We demand of any political party desiring the support of Negroes a vigorous prosecution of the war. We are opposed to any negotiated peace as advocated by the Hitler-like forces within our country. Victory must crush Hitlerism at home as well as abroad.”

What Do Negroes Believe?

We are interested right now in the two statements that Negroes are primarily concerned with a “vigorous prosecution of the war” and that Negroes, in deciding which party to vote for, will lean to the party “committed to the wholehearted prosecution of the war to total victory.” This statement is a barefaced and deliberate lie. The signers of this declaration know that it is a lie. Every semi-intelligent man and woman in the United States who has had any contact with Negroes knows that it is a lie.

The mass of Negroes in this country are not supporters of the war. Millions of Negroes believe that the war is not a war for democracy. There are thousands of Negroes who believe it is an imperialist war.

The government knows that Negroes do not support the war. The white press knows it, the Negro press knows it. The signers of this declaration know it. In its demands the declaration gives the reasons why Negroes do not make any such demands in connection with the war, alleged in the statement.

The declaration demands anti-lynching legislation. There is none, despite twenty-five years of effort. Anti-lynching bills have been defeated by the Democratic and Republican Parties alike. Roosevelt said not one word in support of the recent anti-lynch bill.

They want a federal FEPC. But Negroes remember the impotence of the FEPC. It was given little power and what limited authority it had was whittled away.

The declaration, demands anti-poll-tax legislation, but Republicans and Democrats have just defeated that effort.

These leaders say that they want an end to imperialism and colonial exploitation. How many Negroes believe that this war will end these twin evils? Hasn’t Churchill already Answered that demand in his statement that he did not become His Majesty’s First Minister in order to sit in at the liquidation of the British Empire?

The declaration demands the elimination of segregation in the armed forces. But Negroes know that segregation in the armed forces has been sustained with vigor by the federal government. Not only this, but the government has not even protected Negroes in the military service from insult, assault and lynching.

For Full Equality

These are the experiences which Negroes have gone through which teach them something about the present war. They know that the problem is one of national Jim Crow and is not a matter of the Republican or Democratic Parties. Their first demand on political parties is not for vigorous prosecution of the war but for the elimination of Jim Crow, discrimination, segregation, disfranchisement and lynching. Negroes do not recognize the war as “the chief issue confronting our country,” insofar as Negroes are part of “our country.” They see the chief issue before the country for Negroes, the complete elimination of Jim Crow NOW, for full equality.

When we say “Negroes” we are talking about the masses of the Negro people. We are not talking about the signatories to this declaration. They are mostly middle class Negroes who do not and cannot speak for, nor represent the interests of the Negro workers and toilers.

The signers of this document tell us that they want to end exploitation in Africa, the West Indies, India and all other colonial areas. Don’t they want to end exploitation in the United States? They don’t even mention this little trifle. What is their opinion on the question of the capitalist exploitation of the sharecroppers and industrial workers? And why do these Negro leaders refrain from making the demand for the complete freedom of Africa and India? Why don’t they demand openly that all subject and colonial peoples be granted their full independence NOW?

We know the answers to all of these questions and we know why certain phrases appear in this declaration. In the first place, the Negroes who signed this declaration were rounded up and corralled by Browder’s Communist Political Association. Some of them did not know what was happening to them, for Max Yergan poses as head of the Council on African Affairs. Ferdinand Smith poses as only secretary-treasurer of the National Maritime Union. Clayton Powell appears only as head of the “People’s Movement.”

Corralled by Stalinists

The Stalin-Browder line is as clear as day in the declaration. “Wholehearted prosecution of the war to total victory”; “the chief issue confronting our country” is the war. No “negotiated peace as advocated by the Hitler-like forces in our country.” One can just see millions of Negro miners, steel workers, sharecroppers and laundry workers storming the political conventions with the battle cry: “no negotiated peace”; “prosecute the war to total victory.”

This declaration is a statement by a group of pro-war middle class Negroes who find themselves with the same attitude on the war as that held by Stalin’s Communist Political Association in the United States. It is not a statement of what Negroes think but of what these Negro leaders and the Stalinists want them to think. The declaration serves not the interests of Negroes but the middle class interests of these leaders and of the Stalin-Browder Communist Political Association.

The declaration is a brazen notification to Roosevelt or Willkie or Dewey that these Negroes are in full support of the imperialist war. All the other “demands” are thrown in as window dressing to obscure their pro-war betrayal and in an effort to make such betrayal palatable to as many Negroes as possible.

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