Hal Draper

Jim Crow in Los Angeles – IV

(February 1947)

From Labor Action, Vol. 11 No. 8, 24 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.


Walter Wanger, the motion picture producer and a member of the Committee, contributed the brilliant suggestion that the police should improve its public relations with the Negro press, and a motion was passed. That’s all, folks.

All the cases of police brutality we have mentioned took place after this conference.

Negro police officers on the force have always been relegated to routine tasks in uniform and neither promoted nor given incentive and opportunity. There has been a steady decline under Bowron’s administration in the number of Negroes assigned to the Newton Street detective bureau. When the present crew came into City Hall in 1938, a Negro was acting captain at the station. Now there is not one colored detective-lieutenant there and only two detectives. In the entire force the number of Negro detectives has gone down almost half, and the number of detective-lieutenants to zero. Does anyone think these facts have no connection with the mounting menace of KKKism in the police force?

What does “respect for law and order” begin to mean under such conditions? How can one expect Negroes, who see the hand of the government and its police raised against them every day of their lives, to feel anything but resentment against an authority which oppresses them so cruelly? Economic exploitation and racial oppression – these are the twin evils of capitalism which produce crime as a blind, anti-social protest against an intolerable way of life forced on subject groups, whether white or Negro.

Poison – Beware!

Anyone who thinks this is just the Negroes’ fight is making the mistake that keeps Jim Crow going and growing.

That goes for white workers who think race prejudice is not their concern. That also goes for Negro workers who come to the conclusion: “The whole white race is my enemy.” If both sides keep the conflict on a race basis, then Jim Crow wins automatically.

Let’s be practical about it. For Negro workers, race hatred is a club. For white labor, race hatred is a slow poison. The only ones who benefit are those who exploit both. The only hope of victory is through working-class solidarity.

Negroes belong to a minority group, so called, by virtue of color. But Negro workers (and 90 per cent of Negroes are workers) belong to the great MAJORITY GROUP of this country. That great MAJORITY GROUP is the working class, all of whom are exploited by the capitalist profit-makers in an economic system that breeds race-hatred along with the profit.

When that MAJORITY GROUP closes its ranks and understands its interests as an awakened CLASS, the Jim Crow system will disappear like its ancestor, the slave system.

That is why the first principle of capitalism is – DIVIDE AND RULE. Set native-born against foreign-born, Jew against Gentile, Negro against white, and laugh your head off while you pick the pockets of all of them.

So the poison of “white supremacy” is carefully pumped into the heads of white workers by the whole machinery of education, movies, radio, newspapers, and so on.

One of the factories of these racial myths is right in our city – the big dream factory known as Hollywood. Here, where the pap for people’s thinking is doctored up and. slanted, the Negro people are systematically portrayed only in the role of humble menial, entertainer or Uncle Tom – so that when Europeans met American Negro soldiers in the life they were honestly surprised to find just MEN like themselves.

This is the kind of poison, spread not by the Gerald Smiths and the KKK but by respectable powers in our society like Hollywood and the press, which lies at the bottom of race riots. Los Angeles too has seen these.

There was the pogrom of June 1943 which the newspapers camouflaged under the name of the “zoot-suit riots.” Carey McWilliams described it in his book, Southern California Country: “Roaming the downtown streets, a mob of 3,000 hoodlums dragged Mexicans, Filipinos and Negroes from motion-picture theaters and street cars, beat them on the streets and sidewalks and in many cases stripped them of their clothing. During the rioting, policemen watched the violence, made no attempt to intervene, and arrested the victims Of the mob after the mob had finally abandoned them.”

This, like the notorious Sleepy Lagoon case of August 1942 involved the Mexican minority mainly, but perhaps even more dangerous have been recent outbreaks of race violence in the public schools directed against Negroes. In January the Gompers Junior High and in July the Manual Arts High School saw vicious attacks by white boys upon colored pupils, and in 1945 there had also been several similar events in schools.

The racist poison seeps from the top down to those who are the stupidest, most uneducated and fascist-minded, and gives them the idea of venting all their hatreds and fears of insecurity upon minority peoples as scapegoats, if they can even succeed in setting one minority against another, then indeed the race-baiters enjoy a good belly-laugh.

Last July many Negroes in Los Angeles received postcards from something called the “Gentile League” warning them to “Beware of the Jews” and “slimy Jewish finance.” All this has the same origin as similar propaganda against Negroes. Divide and rule!

The same Jewish fraternity at USC which was the victim of the KKK outrage had itself not long before been one of the signers of the anti-Negro restrictive covenant there. In the same way, Negroes who fall for anti-Semitic or nationalistic anti-white propaganda are digging their own pitfalls. Victory lies only in real unity on class lines – black and white labor fighting together to give the nation’s wealth back to the nation’s workers.

Labor Is the Enemy of Jim Crow

This means in the first place a determined struggle inside the trade unions to destroy every sign of Jim Crow in the labor movement. Every Negro worker knows how widespread this disgrace is, especially in the AFL. The fight against it is gaining, nationally and in Los Angeles. The great “Operation Dixie” of the CIO and AFL, the drive to organize Southern labor, is forcing even race-minded AFL craft unions to reconsider their restrictions, because the fight itself makes clear that labor can advance only with racial solidarity.

In Los Angeles the AFL Central Council has taken a step against the great evil through a new Committee to Combat Intolerance and through aid to the East Side Labor Committee. This is still only a token. But this is the direction for the struggle – not to reject the unions with scorn but to fight to make them clean instruments of class solidarity.

Even with the running sore of Jim Crowism in many trade unions, it is the labor movement and only labor which has been the greatest enemy of race discrimination. In Los Angeles, the pressure of the CIO Auto Workers is forcing the auto plants to open the doors to Negro production workers. After a fight by Local 216 and the threat of action by CIO-UAW President Walter Reuther, the General Motors plant in Southgate last July yielded and began hiring Negroes in production departments.

Labor stands to gain by abolishing Jim Crow – Capital needs the Jim Crow system – this is why the working class movement is basically the ally of the Negro struggle.

Negroes can no more distrust any white just because he is white than they can trust any Negro just because of his race. It is not a question of color. In the early months of 1946, the Culinary Workers Union started an organization drive in the Central Avenue district. The average wage of culinary workers in this area was 20 to 50 per cent lower than in other sections of the city. Negro employers came forth with the very same arguments for segregation and wage discrimination as their white capitalist brethren.

The Central Avenue “community” turned out to be not one but TWO: the community of employers versus the community of labor. Race segregation and Jim Crowism, it was made clear, is indeed in the interests of certain Negro business and professional elements, who use the segregated Negro districts as their own preserves for exploiting the members of their own race. Black or white, the stream of profit is thicker than the blood stream.

Last updated on 6 January 2022