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E.R. McKinney

Concluding Article in Series on Civil Rights Report

Wages Low Where Jim Crow Rules

(1 March 1948)

From Labor Action, Vol. 12 No. 9, 1 March 1948, pp. 1 & 3.
Transcribed & marked up by Einde O’ Callaghan for the Encyclopaedia of Trotskyism On-Line (ETOL).

When one reads that the wife of a senator from South Carolina did not attend the Jefferson-Jackson dinner of the Democratic Party in Washington, because “I might be seated beside a Negro,”it is not easy to know what is in this woman’s head and what it is that she is really talking about. She would perhaps say that she does not want to be “mongrelized,” or that she is opposed to being a “conquered province,” or this is her way of showing that “we love our Negroes.”

According to the reports in the papers, only about a dozen Negroes attended this $100 a plate dinner. This would be $1,200 spent by Negroes. Perhaps the senator’s wife is of the opinion that these twelve Negroes should have donated that $1,200 to help toward the building of a school house for the poor white children of South Carolina. That might not be a bad idea, since the intelligence quotient of the Northern Negroes is higher than that of South Carolina whites.

If the intelligence of the poor whites in South Carolina could be brought up to that of the Northern Negro, the white masses of South Carolina might begin to understand that their leaders are a bunch of ignorant and conniving demagogues, who are not only against civil liberties for Negroes but for the poor whites also. We suspect, however, that the lady from South Carolina knows little about such things as intelligence tests and civil liberties. It’s not required reading in the South, especially in the case of women.

Underscore Serious Situation

These observations are not mere facetious jibes at the South. They only underscore a very serious situation. It is a fact that the poor whites of the deep South will have to reach a far higher level of intelligence before they can understand even in the most elementary way what is happening to them and why. I will now relate a few relevant considerations which the Southern poor white has never heard of but which undoubtedly played an extremely important role in the deliberations of the Committee on Civil Rights, and in the thinking of Messrs. Wilson and Luckman. The statistical material which I am going to relate is kept from the Southern poor whites by the Rankins, Byrds, Eastlands and Gossetts.

Alabama, with a population of 2,832,961, in 1940 paid income taxes to the federal government totalling $244,285,520. Minnesota, with about the same population paid $612,200,194. Alabama’s corporation taxes were $39,685,414 and Minnesota’s $105,876,454. Alabama and Minnesota are both manufacturing and agricultural states. The population of Kansas is about 250,000 less than that of Mississippi. Yef Kansas paid into the federal treasury three and a half times what Mississippi paid. South Carolina is a manufacturing and agricultural state. And so is Connecticut. The populations are about the same. The corporations in Connecticut paid twice as much as the South Carolina corporations, and individuals paid nearly four times as much. What does this mean? It means that there is something substantial to tax in Minnesota, Kansas and Connecticut, while in South Carolina, Alabama and Mississippi there just isn’t much.

I am not making an argument for paying taxes. I am merely demonstrating that the South is so poor in comparison with the North that there isn’t even anything much for the tax collector. This is one of the reasons – among others, of course – the South has the poll-tax; these poverty stricken backwoods states really need the money.

Georgia has 23,675,612 acres under cultivation. The assessed value of this land with buildings is $654,244,224. Indiana has 20,027,015 farm acres but its assessed value is $1,794,314,968, over twice that of Georgia. In round numbers Mississippi has 19 million acres assessed at 649 million dollars, while Pennsylvania has 15 million acres assessed at over a billion dollars.

There is more to this than meets the eye. Why does the farm land of the North have a :higher assessed value than that of the South? Here again we get back to the question of schools, ignorance, income and wealth; energy and indolence; hookworm and the absence of hookworm. The higher cultural, educational and technical level of the North produces a different kind of farming and a different kind of farm.

Reflected in Wage Scales

Let’s look at something else. The sales figures quoted are for 1939 and the population figures are for 1940. The population of Georgia was 3,123,723. The population of the state of Washington was 1,736,101. In Georgia, 32,870 retail stores sold $624,765,000 and paid 78,947 employees $58,874,000 in wages. In Washington, the sales of 26,682 retail stores amounted to $668,790,000; 66,852 employees were paid $75,405,000 in wages. North Carolina and Wisconsin are about the same size in population. In 1939, however, 270,207 North Carolina Wage earners received $199,289,500 in wages. The same year 200,207 wage earners in Wisconsin received $251,946,993 in wages. That is, there were around 70,000 fewer wage earners in Wisconsin but they received 52 million dollars more in wages than the wage earners of North Carolina. And we have to remember that North Carolina is not Mississippi or Arkansas.

This means that the workers of Wisconsin had 52 millions more to spend or save than the industrial workers of North Carolina. It means that the industrial families of the workers of Wisconsin would have more electric irons, radios, washers, pianos, furniture, clothing and food than the families of the industrial workers of North Carolina. This means also that Wisconsin can have more and better schools and that the state does not need a poll-tax to aid in support of the state government. This higher income means that Charles Luekman of the Committee on Civil Rights will sell more Life-Buoy soap in Wisconsin than in North Carolina or Mississippi. Not only because the masses have more money in Wisconsin but because they have better schools and better homes in which they are taught that human beings should use soap, and that it is no longer necessary to make one’s own soap in the backyard from wood ash lye.

Since the figures I have used are for a few years back it might he conjectured that the gap had been closed. This is not the case. The standard of living, in the South, was raised some during the war, but not much. Per capita income in 1946 was $555 in Mississippi, $729 in South Carolina and $809 in Georgia. Compare this with $1,090 in Kansas which was perhaps the median for the North. It would be interesting to see the reaction of a native Mississippi poor white after he had advanced to the point where he could understand the meaning of that $555 for this state in relation to what is going on right now. I mean that raising of $100,000 to teach this poor white not to reach beyond that $555 if thereby the Negro will get a little more. I have the notion that when the bedraggled and ignorant poor whites of the South begin to understand these things, there will be another civil war but all the fighting will take place in Dixie.

Cost of Living Higher

It has been said that while wages are low in the South, the cost of living is also lower than in the North. This is another myth which must be discarded. Following are some retail food price indices for October 15, 1947. The base is 100. On this date the index for Atlanta was 198.9, Birmingham 204.8, Dallas 195.5, Houston 200, Jackson, Miss., 209, Savannah 215.1, Memphis 213, New Orleans 211, Charleston 189.8. For Chicago the index was 203.1, Cleveland 204.3, Detroit 195.5, New York 194.3, Philadelphia 191.7, Buffalo, 192.4 and Kansas City, Mo., 183. I have included the highest and the lowest from big cities in each section.

Here at least is something financial which the South is tops in. The assets of Consolidated Edison in New York City may be greater than the assessed value of all property in Mississippi, Arkansas and South Carolina. But there is at least one thing which Little Rock, Ark., and Jackson, Miss., can boast of: it costs more to live in these cities than in New York City. They have a lower standard of living, but a higher standard of prices.

The governors and congressmen from the South are holding session after session and orating all over the place about “Southern democracy,” “states’ rights” and other ancient Dixie nonsense. What they are really concerned about is the possibility of the poor whites: looking into the books and seeing and understanding some of the comparative figures I have quoted above. It would be very silly to believe that the concern of these demagogues right now is with the Negro. They are first of all concerned with keeping the poor whites in ignorance and subjection.

These scoundrels understand, for instance, that a part of civil rights in the United States is the right to organise into trade unions. That process is going on in the South today. White workers who join the CIO will tend to support the civil rights program because they will begin to understand that they too have a stake in civil rights as well as the Negro. When a white worker in Jackson, Miss., learns that his wages are lower than the wages of a worker in New York, but that it costs him more to live in Jackson, he will look around to discover the reason why.

When a white toiler in South Carolina learns that Negroes in the North eat better food, wear better clothing and live in a better house than he does, he will begin to question the value of this “white supremacy” which he has been sold by his representative in Congress and his governor.

It is the economic aspects of this question which I have been discussing that the Committee on Civil Rights was concerned with. That is what the white members of the committee were primarily concerned with, particularly Charles Wilson of General Electric, the chairman, and Charles Luekman, president of Lever Bros., soap manufacturers.

“White Supremacy” Too Expensive

Wilson and Luekman and other Northern manufacturers of consumer goods see a vast potential market which they are being kept from developing by the operation of something known as “white supremacy,” “Southern democracy,” “the purity of Southern womanhood.” Northern industrial capitalism is kept from the development of a potentially huge market by the prevalence of ignorance, poverty, disease and “lawlessness” in the South. Wilson can’t sell vacuum cleaners to people who haven’t the money, who have nothing to clean or who believe the broom they have always used is good enough.

It is clear that Northern capitalism is preparing for another showdown with the South. “Southern democracy” is again interfering with the frantic attempts of capitalism to stabilize itself. Southern “white supremacy” is getting in the way of the maintenance of capitalist supremacy. Jim Crow is too expensive for capitalism today. As capitalism plunges deeper into difficulties, the capitalists tire of contributing to two universities, two hospitals, two law schools where one could serve adequately. All the railroads in the country are owned in the North. The Southern political leaders don’t own even a hand car. The money in Southern banks isn’t even owned by Southerners. Southern cotton plantations are owned by the Metropolitan Life, New York Life and other insurance companies and banks in the North. Northern owners of railroads will come to the place where they will conclude that it is too expensive to provide separate accommodations for Negroes in order to keep something known as “white supremacy.”

I emphasize again that the Northern manufacturer of consumer goods wants to get at this vast potential Southern market. Right now he can’t because there is an iron curtain around the South: “white supremacy,” “the purity of the white race,” “states’ rights.” The civil rights report and the civil rights message mean that Northern capitalism is ready to apply the policy of the “open door” to the South. Open the door to Northern standards of living, educational standards, cultural values and political practices. This means that the door is open for Northern products and the increase of profits and dividends.

It is not my intention to give the impression that the above is the only reason for the new insistence on “civil rights.” In the first article I quoted from, the report on The International Reason for the establishment of civil liberties. Furthermore, there are in the U.S., fortunately, people who sincerely believe that “democracy” can and should be made to work. All of these points of view were represented among the white members of the committee. This means that these points of view are held by members of the capitalist ruling class today. If this were not true such opinions as are set forth in the report would not have come from the presidents of the University of North Carolina and Dartmouth College, the presiding bishop of the Episcopal Church and the president of the General Electric Co.

Negroes Will Not Always Submit

There is another reason why some attention must be given to this question by the leaders of society. In the eight states of Alabama, Georgia, Mississippi, South Carolina, Arkansas, Louisiana, Texas and North Carolina there are fourteen million white people and seven million Negroes. These are round numbers. To realize what this means, let’s imagine the Negro population of New York to be six million, Pennsylvania five million, Illinois three million and Michigan two million. This would be about one-half of the total population. For instance, would any restaurant or other public place dare deny accommodations to a Negro? Given the present cultural level of the Negro in the North and the Negro population, 30 to 50 per cent of the total population, there could be no possible way by which Jim Crow could be maintained. Under such conditions the Negroes would eliminate Jim Crow by force if necessary.

This is precisely what is likely to transpire in the South. The seven million Negroes in the states I mentioned will not forever consent to live in subjection to fourteen million whites. There is no way for the white people of these states to keep up the subjugation of the seven million Negroes should the Negroes decide that they have had enough. I think it is safe to say that the Committee on Civil Rights did not ignore this aspect of the question. In their opinion civil rights are certainly to be preferred to civil war.

Will Truman hold to his program and insist on passage by Congress? This is a difficult question but relatively unimportant. Why these recommendations were not brought in before has already been answered above. To berate the ruling class or the capitalist parties for using the civil rights question for political advantage may be, stating a fact, but it is also demonstrating that one is a little stupid.

To take the position that the findings of the committee have been known for some time even to the white members of the committee and that therefore these members are hypocrites and not to be trusted, is only to waste one’s time feeling good over the discovery of a hypocrite.

Any one of these attitudes may be factual and consoling but they hardly contribute to an understanding of what is behind this civil rights agitation from on top, by white people who have civil rights aplenty. That is what I have tried to explore in these three articles. As a result of that exploration I believe the Southern rabble in Congress and the state capitals is going to get a real licking. The South will have to back up. It is interfering again with “free enterprise” at a time when “free enterprise” is less able to bear undue burdens than ever before. The South is going to be forced to put up with a little “mongrelization,” with less “white purity,” and less “white supremacy.” If the South insists on chewing its bitter pills, that will be too bad and nothing can be done about it. Operation Dixie will go on: will go on from CIO headquarters in Washington and from the centers of capitalist production all over the North.

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