J.R. Johnson

The Negro Question

(20 January 1940)

From Socialist Appeal, Vol. IV No. 3, 20 January 1940, p. 3.
Transcribed & marked up by Einde O’Callaghan for the Marxists’ Internet Archive.

Two men went up into the temple to pray, the one a Pharisee and the other a publican. This famous tale of the holy scripture was reenacted once more in 1932. You remember what happened in the Gospels. The Pharisee was the man who boasted of what he had done. He had paid his dues, he fasted so many days a week. He thanked God that he was a righteous man and not a scoundrel like the damned publican. But the publican didn’t pretend, he didn’t say he had done this and that and the other. He said he was a sinner. That’s all. He begged for mercy, it is true, but that isn’t important for us.

Twentieth-Century Pharisees

Look at the New Dealers. These Pharisees have for years been telling the whole world and Negroes what fine fellows they are. The Negroes should love them. They are the men for “true” democracy; they want to build a new world of righteousness and peace, in which the lion will lie down with the lamb, in which the Southern plantation-owner will give a square deal to the sharecropper. They say, “Discriminate against the Negro? Not we. Look how many Negroes there are in the WPA white-collar jobs and working in relief bureaus, etc. We thank God,” say the New Dealers, “that we are not like other men, even as these Republicans.”

Now comes a fine exposure of these righteous rascals. A few days ago Miles Paige, a Negro Magistrate in Harlem, was named by Mayor LaGuardia for a seat on the Special Sessions bench at $12,000 a year. The Negro press as usual hails this as proof of the “great progress” of Negroes. It is proof of nothing of the kind. No Negro who knows the history of his race needs any proof of its capacity to fill any office in this country. Furthermore, Paige’s appointment does not raise the income of one Negro sharecropper or one Negro factory worker or one Negro unemployed. And these are the people with whom we are chiefly concerned. Appointments like this one of Paige cannot lift the great mass of oppressed Negroes. When the great masses of Negroes move, they will create opportunities for ten thousand Paiges. That is not to say that such appointments are not to be supported not only by Negroes but by the whole labor movement. The Negroes have a right to posts everywhere. The Socialist Workers Party, for instance, condemns those who join the bourgeois army. But as for the right of Negroes to join the army if they want to, and on equal terms with the whites – that we support.

Where’s the Catch?

But now comes a mystery. Paige was to be seated on Tuesday, January 2nd, but the ceremony was postponed indefinitely. The Amsterdam News of January 13 gives us some indication why.

LaGuardia is flirting with the New Dealers, with an eye to the presidential elections. He is typical of them, with his large words and small concessions. But since the Harlem riots of 1935, La Guardia has a wholesome respect for Harlem Negroes. And since Lehman defeated Dewey only by the aid of the Negroes’ vote, all these progressive fakers are at their wits’ end to keep the Negro vote. So LaGuardia runs around in Harlem, he has lunch with Bill Robinson sitting near him, he builds a housing project or two (where fifty are needed), and he appoints Negroes to posts they have not held before. First Justice Bolin. And now Paige.

But behold! Roosevelt in Washington lives only by grace of those Southern landlords, without whom the Democratic Party is nothing. These fellows are not going to stand for any vice-president or cabinet minister who is a “nigger-lover.” So Washington warns LaGuardia. He is leaning too heavily towards the Negro race. You cannot discriminate in favor of Negroes, you know. One judge every twenty years or so is enough. If you go on like that you discredit yourself, and your future with us of the Democratic Party is gloomy. Hence, says the Amsterdam News, Paige’s appointment still awaits confirmation.

Tweedledum and ...

So here we are, my friends, the “little flower” of “democracy” and the New Deal, herald angels of equality between man and man, conspiring to save their immortal souls and to placate the viciousness of Southern reactionaries at the expense of one Negro being made a judge – one Negro, be it noted.

Here and there a Negro may squeeze into an appointment. But salvation for the race from any of these Republicans or Democrats who have systematically deceived the Negro people for seventy-five years? No. The Republicans make no promises. The New Dealers make them but do not mean it. And that is the only difference between them.

Last updated on 16 July 2018