Hal Draper

Jim Crow in Los Angeles – III

(February 1947)

From Labor Action, Vol. 11 No. 7, 17 February 1947, p. 6.
Transcribed & marked up by Einde O’Callaghan for the Marxists’ Internet Archive.

The following excerpt continues the publication in Labor Action of an election campaign pamphlet published by the Los Angeles branch of the Workers Party. Its author Is Hal Draper, candidate of the Workers Party for city councilman from the Seventh District of Los Angeles. We are publishing this pamphlet not only because of the material it contains on the Los Angeles situation, but also because its description and analysis of Jim Crow, as well as its program to fight Jim Crow, are of interest to readers throughout the country. Readers wishing to purchase copies of the pamphlet may do so by writing to the Workers Party, at 316½ W. Pico, Los Angeles.


In the November 1946 election, Proposition No. 11, for a state FEPC was defeated by the reactionary united front, backed by plenty of money. Leading the fight against it were: the Merchants and Manufacturers Association, the Associated Farmers, the Chambers of Commerce, the Los Angeles Times and Hearst. Even the fake-liberal Daily News came out against it. Prominent in its support were the trade unions, both AFL and CIO, as well as the Negro organizations. Here over the issue of race discrimination was the basic conflict of Capital and Labor.

The Workers Party backed Proposition 11 all the way. But we know that even an FEPC with a couple of teeth in it cannot begin to clean out an economic system which needs race discrimination in order to keep workers divided. The national wartime FEPC showed that.

Roosevelt established the FEPC only at the threat of the March-on-Washington movement headed by A. Philip Randolph, president of the Sleeping Car Porters Union. And then, having headed off this militant revolt for Negro rights, the new FEPC “never received any but token appropriations and never obtained full presidential support” by Roosevelt. This is quoted from the summary made of the FEPC by its own director of field operations, Will Maslow. What is important to remember is that even this concession by the government was made only when the Negro people threatened to take the fight into their own hands!

That’s the kind of militant action that opens the road to FEPC and to the death of Jim Crow.

The Klan Rides Again

The fight over FEPC brought into town that traveling salesman of race hatred, Gerald L.K. Smith, to do his bit for the Big Business campaign against Proposition 11. Smith is only a visitor to town, but his tie-up with the local Ku Klux Klan revival has been proved.

The underworld character named Ray Schneider who was Smith’s bodyguard in Los Angeles has also been exposed as the “Grand Dragon” of the Klan. The Rev. Swift, who spoke for the KKK at the Big Bear lodge of the American Legion, openly stated that “Gerald L.K. Smith is our leader.” The Ku Klux Klan, whose post-war revival has made a national scandal, is busy at work in Los Angeles! Testimony has been given that it has 100 groups operating in Southern California, under various names.

The first fiery-cross burning in Los Angeles proper took place in May 1946 on the front lawn of H.G. Hickerson of 134 56th Street, whose family for more than two years has been waging a court battle for the right to live there. They are the only Negro residents on the block and neighbors had brought suits.

Typically, the police belittled the “incident” as a “childish prank,” and this has been their standard reaction to Klan outrages. This is nothing but villainous hypocrisy. In the Hickerson case, for example, not a single neighbor appeared throughout the whole commotion made late at night by radio cars, milling men and photo flash bulbs – an amazing lack of curiosity! The police did not care to explain how playful children put together the large, expertly-carpentered wooden cross. This part of the story goes for most of the 27 cases of Klan activity which have occurred in the city in the past months.

A few days later, fiery crosses burned again – one in Eagle Rock, where Grand Dragon Schneider had his KKK post-office address, and another right on the campus of our old acquaintance, the University of Southern California. Here the police trotted out the pat explanation “a student prank” – a student prank which erected a five-and-a-half-foot cross before the Jewish fraternity Zeta Beta Tau, and branded the letters KKK on the lawn in flaming kerosene and in two-foot letters on the wall of the house. The materials for the cross were definitely traced to another fraternity, but to this day neither the police nor the USC has lifted a finger. The university authorities moved only to prohibit a protest rally on the campus.

In June and July again the “prankish children” of the KKK struck. In case after case their connection with the restrictive-covenant drive was clear to everyone but the guardians of law and order. Two Negroes, Richard Bates and Fred Mills, are knifed, beaten and their homes set afire after threats by a couple of avowed Klan representatives who warn them “We’re going to run the Negroes and Mexicans out of this area.” A retired Negro police captain, Homer L. Garrott, has the sinister letters splashed on the sidewalk in front of his house – a house in which he lives only because he fought and won a restrictive-covenant case as the only Negro on the block. With 27 years on the force behind him, Garrott also had to listen to the stupid police explanation, “childish prank.”

The government from the Mayor down has made it plentifully clear that they are not the least bit interested in getting in the Klan’s way. After the first cases, Mayor Bowron blustered, “I shall not tolerate these outrages.” But not a thing was done – not one arrest, not one suspect, not one clue in the “baffling” mystery.

By September Mayor Bowron was bold enough to assert that his “investigations” had shown no sign of KKK activity in Los Angeles. Not a sign! This fine gentleman could not do more for the Klan if he donned a white robe and hood for a City Hall reception.

The KKK weapon is vigilante terror. In the nearby town of Fontana last December the entire family of O’Day H. Short, including two young children, was burned to death at home as the result of an explosion and fire which an expert investigator described as arson. This followed shortly after warnings from,.two deputy sheriffs and a real estate broker that the Shorts were “out of bounds” and a vigilante committee was meeting. The government authorities never even pushed an investigation.

What you see is a united front – police officialdom, government, propertied interests, Klan and vigilante hoodlums – operating in close harmony. They are making crystal-clear that the Negro people and labor must depend on their own forces and action to defend themselves.

The Police Scandal

That’s enough on what the police do NOT do. But the dirtiest story in Los Angeles is the disgraceful record of police brutality against the Klan’s chief victims, the Negro population.

Just suppose —

You are driving your car down the street, say, near Main and 101st. Two plainclothesmen stop you – because, they explain later, they think you “look like a suspicious character.” Because you are “slow” in getting out of the car as ordered, they set upon you with fists and gun-butts. No charge is laid; you are not even booked; once you’ve been beaten up, you’re released on identification.

This is not an atrocity tale out of Nazi Germany or Mississippi. This is the story of Dr. Joseph A. Hayes, well known Negro physician who served three years in the Army Medical Corps.

Scarcely a week passes but that the local Negro press prints one or more shameful reports of this nature. And those that do get printed are usually only the worst in the week’s news. The Hayes case is fairly “mild.”

In the very same week another veteran, James S. Carter, is arrested for speeding. He apparently was speeding. He is therefore beaten up in a squad car, charged with car-stealing for good measure, and the cop in the squad car tells him: “What we should do is treat the n....rs here like they do in Georgia. Then we wouldn’t have any trouble with you n....rs.”

Here’s one that’s different. Lynford Johnson, who is a white man, is arrested on June 22 because he is walking along Main near 97th with a Negro friend. The police grill him on the propriety of his association. He is NOT beaten up, just hauled to jail and booked for investigation. After all, he is not a Negro – just walking with one.

Three plainclothesmen break into a house near Central and 42nd looking for a crap game. A crowd gathers to watch the excitement. Finding no crap game, the cops charge into the crowd instead. Mouthing racial insults, one of the officers begins hitting the nearest person with a cane. The victim, Roy Howard, is beaten unmercifully in the sight of all, then shoved into a police car and driven around for an hour and a half while being beaten and cursed. An officer tells him on the “ride”: “All I want to do is to take my pistol and whip a n....r to death with it. The only reason I don’t is because I might get in a little trouble about it.” But relax – justice finally triumphs. The victim Howard, is freed of charges, even though he lands in a hospital. The officers? Nothing happens to them!

One more case of an instructive kind. A 13-year-old boy of Mexican extraction, Eugene Montenegro, is ordered to stop by a deputy sheriff, on suspicion of burglary. He runs. The officer thereupon draws his gun and shoots the boy through the back! This is what is meant by the outcry against the cops who get “trigger-happy” when they enter minority-group district? And we haven’t even mentioned mere cases of general “shoving around,” discourtesy, rough handling, and so on.

Last January the Mayor’s “Committee on Home Front Unity” held a confab with police representatives on the charges of police brutality. All the police could muster was a denial that it is the policy of the department to use brutality against minority groups. This stupid defense is only a cover for the fact that the department tolerates, whitewashes and condones such action!

Last updated on 6 January 2022