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E.R. McKinney

Report Reveals Jim-Crow

President’s Civil Rights Committee
Reveals Widespread Discrimination

(16 February 1948)

From Labor Action, Vol. 12 No. 7, 16 February 1948, pp. 1 & 2.
Transcribed & marked up by Einde O’ Callaghan for the Encyclopaedia of Trotskyism On-Line (ETOL).

This article will deal with what is called “civil rights” in the United States; specifically with the question of civil rights for Negroes as posed in the report of the President’s Committee on Civil Rights and President Truman’s, recent message to Congress on civil rights. These are important and significant documents not only for what they say and recommend but primarily because they come from the head of the federal government. We also have to remember that Mr. Truman is the head of the Democratic Party. It is necessary to emphasize again, too, that the Democratic Party, like the Republican Party, is a party of the capitalist ruling class and the pronouncements of these parties are therefore not always irrelevant to an understanding of what the capitalist ruling class in the U.S. is thinking today on the question of civil rights for Negroes.

It is necessary to record some of the happenings in the field of civil rights for Negroes. First, there is the report of the President’s Committee on Civil Rights. Then there is President Truman’s message to Congress. Third, there are various and sundry decisions of the Supreme Court. Next, there are the civil rights activities and plans of the Army and Navy Departments. This is on the side of the government. In order to complete the picture and to integrate civil rights trends property it will be necessary to discuss what is taking place in the states and in the ranks of “private enterprise.”

A Revealing Report

An examination of the report of the Committee on Civil Rights reveals that this committee, after due investigation and deliberation, has come to the conclusion that not only should full constitutional equality be accorded the Negro in practice, but also that the spirit of the Declaration of Independence and the Constitution should be invoked in dealing with the so-called Negro problem. This report recommends the elimination of Jim Crow, segregation and discrimination throughout the nation. The report tears away the hocus-pocus about “equal but separate accommodation not being discriminatory.” The report destroys the nonsense and sophistry put forward by advocates of Jim Crowism, which attempts to distinguish between segregation and discrimination. This particular piece of Jim Crow has become the last trench ardently held by the defenders of Jim Crow everywhere. The argument runs that if Negro travelers are given a coach identically like the white coach and each group is compelled to ride in its own coach, then no discrimination has been practiced, only segregation. If the Negro school system is just like the white school system (same curriculum, identical buildings and equipment, salaries, etc.), that is segregation, but it is not discrimination.

This, of course, is the reasoning of the social philosophy of the Supreme Court at present. You must treat them all alike, says the Supreme Court to the state of Oklahoma. If the state has law instruction for white people, like instruction must be provided for black people. In the Oklahoma case the court went so far as to tell the state that it must supply law instruction for Negroes by the opening of the school year or not operate a law school for white people.

Since there were only about two weeks between this decision and the scheduled date of the opening of school, Oklahoma was hard pressed. In order to comply, however, with the letter of the decision, the state decided to open a law school for Negroes somewhere in the state capitol building. Texas has already planned some such makeshift. Not to be caught in the meshes of Supreme Court logic, Arkansas has decided to admit Negroes to the graduate school of its university but they will be placed in separate classes. There will be segregation but no discrimination.

On this “separate but equal” procedure the Civil Rights Report says:

“In the committee’s opinion this is one of the outstanding myths of American history, for it is almost always true that while indeed separated, these facilities are far from equal ... If reason and history were not enough to substantiate the argument against segregation, recent experiences further strengthen it. For these experiences demonstrate that segregation is an obstacle to establishing harmonious relationships among groups. They prove that where the artificial barriers which divide people and groups from one another are broken, tension and conflict begin to be replaced by cooperative effort and an environment in which civil rights can thrive.”

It is not the function of the committee, of course, to point out that this conclusion has been known for several decades at least and also that there are individuals, groups and institutions in the nation who do not want the “artificial barriers” removed so that “conflict” can be replaced by “cooperative effort.” Three such institutions are the federal government and the Republican and Democratic Parties.

Because we are concerned with the motivations behind the Civil Rights Report we quote one pregnant passage:

“One of the principal economic problems facing us and the rest of the world is achieving maximum production and continued prosperity. The loss of a huge, potential market for goods is a direct result of the economic discrimination which is practiced against many of our minority groups ... Discrimination depresses the wages and income of minority groups. As a result, their purchasing power is curtailed and markets are reduced. Reduced markets result in reduced production.”

The report then quotes a statement by Eric Johnston:

“Intolerance is a species of boycott and any business or job boycott is a cancer in the economic body of the nation. I repeat, intolerance is destructive; prejudice produces no wealth; discrimination is a fool’s economy.”

We will discuss later what we believe to be at the bottom of these new and radical civil rights proposals. We believe that the quotations above are the real key to the situation, however, we say right now that it would be foolish to come to the conclusion that these economic considerations are the SOLE motivation. Such an analysis would be entirely inadequate and therefore incorrect. The committee was concerned with the international situation, and how the U.S. looks to Europe, Asia and Africa.

“Our foreign policy is designed to make the U.S. an enormous positive influence for peace and progress throughout the world. We have tried to let nothing, not even extreme political differences between ourselves and foreign nations, stand in the way of this goal. But our domestic civil rights shortcomings are a serious obstacle ... We cannot escape the fact that our civil rights has been an issue in world politics ... The United States is not so strong, the final triumph of the democratic ideal is not so inevitable that we can ignore what the world thinks of us or our record.”

The Civil Rights Committee was made up of Negroes and white people. It was not, however, one of those flim-flam goodwill outfits. The committee did not discuss and then agree to come back and discuss some more because it was not possible to agree on anything else. There was a report made containing recommendations, practical and concrete recommendations. The committee did not take a “gradualist’’ position on the question of civil rights but said: “We believe that the time for action is now.”

There are six major recommendations, each subdivided into numerous sections. These recommendations have to do with the procedure for making Jim Crow, segregation and discrimination, because of race, creed or color, illegal. This is to apply to political, economic and civil rights. If the recommendations of the committee were enacted into law by the federal government and the state governments, the Negro in the U.S. would, for the first time, have complete civic, political and economic equality legally. We are not here dealing with the question as to whether or not this is possible in the U.S. “under capitalism,” or probable. We are only dealing in these articles with the various civil rights activities taking place.

Aside from the content of the recommendations, the outstanding feature is that the committee does not propose to wait for the working of some long-time educational procedure. The committee recommends that the legislative and judicial branches of the federal and state governments deal with this question by the enactment of laws which establish civil liberties and provide penalties for tneir violation or abridgement. The committee makes no distinction between the North and the South, except to emphasize that it is the South, which is the chief offender and the section whose offenses make federal action imperative. The committee rejects the old sophistry about “states’ rights.” There are no platitudes on the “decent” or the “right-thinking” white people of the South. The committee knows what it is talking about and decided to say in a forthright manner what it is talking about. The insistence of the committee on statutory action and legal action in cases where the statutes are violated is interesting. We have been exhorted, lectured and preached to for decades that such procedure is exactly what should not be done. This argument always ignored the fact that it was only in the case of the Negro’s civil rights that the discovery was made that statutory and legal procedure “would do more harm than good.” No one objected to laws against murder, only against laws to penalize those who murdered Negroes by lynching. The South is not against Negroes voting, but against their voting in primaries of the Democratic Party. In Mississippi, for the present, this party would not object to Negroes participating in the Republican primaries or in their own primaries. Mississippi and South Carolina Negroes are [not] discriminated against by the Democratic Party in these states – they are only segregated.

Truman’s Message

The civil rights message of President Truman follows the lines of the Report of the Committee on Civil Rights. In relation to Negroes, the message makes the following recommendations to the Congress:

(1) Establishing a permanent Commission on Civil Rights, a Joint Congressional Committee on Civil Rights, and a Civil Rights Division in the Department of Justice. If the Civil Rights Commission should do nothing more than continue the exposure of the facts in connection with the violation of civil rights in the manner of the President’s committee, it will serve a useful purpose. The joint Congressional committee should include in its membership such scoundrels and demagogues as Rankin, Ellender and Maybank. Also such “liberals” and “friends of labor” as Pepper and Lister Hill. When the Senate Labor Committee was in session voting to report the FEPC bill out, Hill voted against and Pepper was absent. The Southern demagogues and ignoramuses, as well as the Northern arch-reactionaries, should be compelled to face the music and have their bombast spread in the record, where it can have the widest possible distribution.

(2) Strengthening existing civil rights statutes. This is imperative in order that the courts cannot resort to the usual practices of reading into statutes the personal social viewpoint of the judges or reading out of the statutes, provisions opposed by the judges, which are only implied but not expressly stated in the statute. This is what happened to the federal civil rights law of 1875 and also to numerous state civil rights acts. For example, the Superior Court of Pennsylvania, in giving its interpretation of an early civil rights law, that a theater proprietor was not violating the then existing statute if he confined Negro patrons to the gallery of his theater. He was a violator of the act only if he excluded Negroes altogether! The court said that the law did not specify that Negroes should be given any and all accommodations.

”The Law, Sir ...”

This, of course, is the reasoning behind the position of the Supreme Court when it decided that a public carrier must provide Negroes with “equal accommodations” but not the same accommodations as provided for white patrons. Or that a state must provide Negroes with “equal” educational opportunities but not necessarily with the same educational opportunities.

This kind of legalistic nonsense only gives light to the jibe of Dr. Johnson, whom I believe it was who said, “the law, Sir, is an ass.” It also underscores the profound observation of Mr. Dooley that “the Supreme Court follows the election returns.” That is to say that this type of legal reasoning reveals the “law” as the handmaiden of the political and sociological viewpoint of the judges.

(3) Providing federal protection against lynching. Here of course is the capstone of the civil liberties struggle. In order to eliminate lynching, all other violations of civil liberties and democratic rights must be eliminated and suppressed. Lynching is only the most extreme form of Jim Crow and discrimination, the application of Jim Crow doctrines by the use of force. The way to deter Negroes from coming to the polls to vote is to charge some Negro with “rape” or with “striking a white man” and then whip up a lynching bee a few weeks before the day of voting. In order to avoid “trouble,” Negroes will be expected to remain away from the polls until “normal” conditions are restored in the community.

(4) Protecting more adequately the right to vote. Before the “right to vote” is protected in the South, this right must be established. The Supreme Court has been more forthright on the issue of suffrage than on any other civil rights question. Its forthrightness of course applies only to elections where federal officers are to be selected. There are many reasons for this. Voting is considered a fundamental right of the citizen. In what part of a train or car a citizen sits or eats is, in the opinion of the court, not so fundamental. The Constitution is fairly clear on the voting issue but somewhat foggy on eating and traveling rights. It would be interesting to speculate on what would be the position of the Supreme Court should South Carolina, for example, decide to admit Negroes to the suffrage but require them to use separate booths for casting their ballots.

For an FEPC

The fifth and sixth recommendations deal with the establishment of an FEPC and the prohibition of discrimination in interstate transportation. The whole South is opposed to both of these recommendations. A large section of Northern employers is also opposed to “fair employment practice.” It is not only in connection with Negroes that this recommendation is opposed. It is in relation to Negroes that the objection is mainly directed, but in the South particularly the employers would be hampered in their opposition to unionization under such an act.

One other point in connection with any FEPC law is that unions are included in the prohibition against “unfair practices.” This is a complex and difficult problem. The unions themselves, particularly the AFL unions, are largely responsible for a situation which makes it possible to include the organizations of labor in a law about discrimination against Negroes. The only effective answer of course is to say to the union, “put your own house in order.”

(Continued next week: The Reaction of the Dixie Wolf Pack
to the Civil Rights Report and the Civil Rights Message)

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