Ernest Rice McKinney Archive   |   ETOL Main Page

Ernest Rice McKinney

A Southern “Liberal’s” Dressed Up Bilboism

(2 September 1946)

From Labor Action, Vol. 10 No. 35, 2 September 1946, p. 5.
Transcribed & marked up by Einde O’ Callaghan for the Encyclopaedia of Trotskyism On-Line (ETOL).

At the request of Marshall Field’s New York daily PM two white southerners have written their replies to a question put to them: what is the cause of racial conflicts in the South. PM states for itself that the arguments of the two disputants are presented “because it believes the important problem of racial conflicts needs to be thoroughly discussed and all viewpoints stated.” The two debaters are James N. Alsop, editor of the Greenwood, Miss., Morning Star and Dr. Clark H. Foreman, president of the Southern Conference for Human Welfare.

The Morning Star is said to be a “liberal” paper and Mr. Alsop is said to be a Southern “liberal.” Dr. Foreman is also labelled “a liberal and a Southerner.” After reading what each has to say one can only conclude that being a “liberal,” especially the Southern variety, is like being a Christian: there are all kinds, all varieties and all degrees.

The immediate and specific event behind the debate was the killing of a Negro in Mississippi by a mob and the roving of this mob through Mississippi swamps for other Negro victims of Mississippi justice, “white supremacy” and Southern determination to protect “white womanhood.”'

Alsop’s Evasions

The “liberal” Mr. Alsop begins his argument and discussion with the traditional plaint about the attitude of the “decent people of this section.” They do not “condone” lynching and mob violence. “Southerners are very little different from people of other sections. Only a small percentage participate in crimes of any kind.” Mr. Alsop may not know it but this is an evasion of the real issue, the main point in connection with mob violence against Negroes.

Mob violence against Negroes in the South or in the North is not just a “crime of any kind.” It is not something like burglary or racketeering or wife-beating. Lynching and mob violence against Negroes are not offenses committed by individuals but by organized groups acting on the foundation of political, economic and social notions, prevalent nationally in the U.S. and accentuated in certain communities, such as the South. Lynching and mob violence are chronic social phenomena in the South. In the South, mob violence is a custom of the country, a community enterprise. Mob violence against Negroes has the persistent support of the community. Alsop admits this when he says that “... the type of people who lynch also would kill informers.” This means that the lynchers are the ruling force in the community and that they really have the support of the community. This could not be said of burglars or wife-beaters, for instance.

Alsop himself really supports the mob. He may not know it, since he is a liberal, but all the support the mob needs is contained in Alsop’s article. Both white people and Negroes in the South are filled with “fear” and “unrest.” He talks about Negroes “violating a taboo” and becoming the victims of “whites” who fear something “they can’t describe.” He finds that the Negro “is becoming more sullen by the day.” The Negro hears about his “rights,” “not understanding what they mean but feeling somehow that he is being cheated.” When one reads this kind of trash by a man known as a Southern “liberal” it is difficult to separate Alsop from Bilbo and Eastland. Alsop puts rights for the Negro in quotation marks. Is it really unclear to him, for instance, what the Workers Party is talking about when it says that Negroes should have social, political and economic equality? What does Alsop think about the Negro “being cheated?” Does he hold that the Negro’s feeling in this matter has no basis in fact? And what does he mean by the really vicious expression about the Negro “growing more sullen ...?” When the slaves grew sullen they were given a beating by the overseer. What does Alsop recommend for the increasingly “sullen” Mississippi Negroes?

Dressed-up Bilboism

Alsop talks about “a smart-sounding person” telling Southern Negroes that their “rights” are not being granted. He says that to the Negro “it means just that.” What does this liberal editor think it should mean to Negroes? Does he believe their rights are being granted? Does Alsop put rights in quotation marks because he believes that Negroes have one kind of rights and white people another kind?

And then this Southern liberal gets off a real piece of Bilbo rubbish. The Negro “has never been taught initiative or pride, so he cannot understand that privileges granted in the Constitution mean earning a place of respect through his own accomplishments.” This is a brand new interpretation of the Constitution; it does not cover those who do not have accomplishments to their credit. In the South they first violate the Constitution in relation to the Negro; they provide him with the worst schools in the country; they terrorize him for centuries; they Jim Crow him and lynch him. After all this is completed, the “decent people” say to the Negro, “you cannot have Constitutional privileges because you have not won a place of respect by your ‘own accomplishments.’” And this is Southern liberalism!

“The better class Negro and the intelligent white are caught in a seething whirlpool ...” That is true. A seething whirlpool of stark and brazen reaction and something known as “liberalism” that is indistinguishable from reaction.

“... a Southerner will not tolerate intrusion upon his race by a black person.” What is the white Southerner’s race? And who has really done the intruding? Did the black slave woman intrude the bedroom of the master or did he invade the cabin with his lascivious and lecherous designs? Where did the mulatto Negroes come from? Were they brought to this country from Africa? Does Alsop claim that they are the result of cohabitation between Negro men and Southern white women?

“... every boy and girl had grown up knowing that the Negroes had always acted better for a year or so after one was burned or shot.” This I suppose is what Alsop, the Southern liberal, would call preventative sociology. The thing to do is to burn a Negro at the stake now and again. This would insure the safety of Southern white womanhood “for a year or so....” We ask: what’s the difference between Alsop and Bilbo? According to Alsop, the Southerner is determined that the “white race shall not be on equal terms with the Negro.” We don’t want to see the little people of the South, white or black, at the level of the Negroes today. We want to see them become the ruling class in conjunction with the white and black workers of the North. Then they can solve their own common problems and put the Alsops and the Bilbos where they belong.

Alsop recommends that dissatisfied Negroes move North leaving “those content to work as manual laborers in their present locations.” This is a proposal for the most militant Negroes to leave the South so that the lynchers may ply their trade in peace and without molestation. It means this, or it means asking the dissatisfied Negroes to go, leaving behind the “Uncle Toms” to do the work without any agitation about “rights.” It is also a proposal from a “liberal” to be left alone and not be bothered with the question of “rights” for Negroes.

Alsop is not only a slanderer but he is also a first rate liar. He writes that the Southerner fears the Negro because the Negroes are dissatisfied, “demanding more pay than before while evidencing little interest in actually working.” This is an old slander as aged as the pro-slavery arguments of Alsop’s ancestors. Alsop knows that human beings in capitalist society work for wages. He knows that the wages of everybody in the South are miserably low. In his article he gives the reasons for this. But being a good Southern “liberal”, he is satisfied to get off the old dirt about Negroes being lazy.

We said that Alsop is also a liar. He says: “the honest educated Southern Negro admits that his race as a whole is making little attempt to better itself.” Alsop is both a liar and scoundrel: a dirty snivelling scoundrel. It’s so easy for a Negro to better himself in the South with the mob at his heels. It’s so convenient to better one’s self in a Mississippi cotton field. One learns all that is necessary about bettering one’s self in a Mississippi state-supported Negro school. One can always better one’s self best while being burned at the stake. We would like to see Alsop after he had a few years of this type of opportunity for self-betterment.

Alsop closes his slimy article with the information that with the help of many liberal people working in the South “there is every chance that the health, educational and economic problems of the Negro will be relieved in the near future, if that is what they seek.” The last phrase, “if that is what they seek” really says a lot about this Southern “liberal.” He fears that Negroes will want more than improvement in the most elemental things. They may want full Constitutional rights. They may want social, political and economic equality. They may want all the rights a Southern “liberal” enjoys. This is too much for Alsop and Bilbo. “... only more lynchings and killings are in store for those who remain in the South and cannot live by the standards set by the whites.” That is, the standards set by the Alsops and the Bilbos.

Alsop’s piece is nothing more than an open declaration to the lynchers to go ahead with their lynching bees. It is open support to Bilbo, Eastland and Rankin. The Negroes will do well not to place any confidence in the liberals of the Alsop stripe.

Dr. Foreman’s piece is of a different kind. In his piece he refutes every contention and position of Alsop. He does not say so but he too knows that Alsop is a slanderer and a liar. He says: “... we must rejoice that so many Negroes are determined, even at the risk of their lives, to participate in our democracy.’’ This, of course, is what worries Alsop. Far too many Negroes are ready to die for their freedom. This makes the Alsop type of “liberal” uncomfortable. They may be faced with the necessity for making a real choice: human equality including the Negroes, or Bilbo and the lynchers.

As the Negroes defend themselves more and more and as they receive aid more and more from the working class, the Alsops will be in a dilemma. Either they will place themselves at the side of the Negroes or they will take their rope and torch and run with the mob. At that time they will discover that they are not only lined up against the Negroes but the white toilers as well.?

Ernest Rice McKinney Archive   |   ETOL Main Page

Last updated: 3 April 2020