J.R. Johnson

The Negro Question

(3 February 1940)

From Socialist Appeal, Vol. IV No. 5, 3 February 1940, p. 3.
Transcribed & marked up by Einde O’Callaghan for the Marxists’ Internet Archive.

First of all, as we showed last week, lynching has nothing to do with the protection of white “womanhood.” Let us once more nail that lie. Some months ago the refusal of Miami Negroes to be frightened away from the polls by the Ku Klux Klan made national headlines in all the Negro papers and even had some attention in the capitalist press. It was only afterwards that we learnt what had frightened off the Klan. The Negroes sat in their houses waiting for the Klan with loaded Winchesters across their laps. Backed by this not-to-be-despised argument, American “democracy” won a small victory.

Now a similar situation is developing in Greenville, South Carolina. Both sides are primed for civil war. The Klan is determined that the Negroes shall not vote. The Negroes are determined that they shall. They are carrying on a campaign for registration in the city elections. James A. Briar, 69 year-old head of the local National Association for the Advancement of Colored People, considered chiefly responsible for the agitation, has been arrested for illegal possession of a gun. This time Briar is defending not only “democracy” but his life. The Klan visited his house a few times in recent weeks, but he was always out. According to the N.Y. Amsterdam News (December 23, 1939), the Klan raided the Negro area and “have beaten up men, stripped and humiliated women and destroyed some property.”

This conflict has been going on for months. How does it affect the Negro? Enter your Southern scientist: “Here is a situation where the Negro’s uncontrollable lust for white women shows itself.” William Anderson, 19 years old, president of the local NAACP Youth Council and very active in the registration campaign, was “framed” some time ago for disorderly conduct and breach of the peace charges by the “authorities,” “who insisted he had tried to date a white girl in town.” There you have the kernel of lynching in the South. The “authorities” bring a case. The mob is less subtle. It tears the victim to pieces.

It is a principle of propaganda today to smear your enemy with the crimes of which you yourself are guilty. Hitler is a past master at the art, Stalin its greatest exponent, living or dead. The South acts on the same principle. The Southern gentlemen pester the Negro women with their attentions. They accuse the Negro of this, their own besetting sin.

Who Are the Savages?

Who are the “savages” in this lynching business? In his recent book, The Black Man in White America, John G. Van Deusen, Professor of American History and Government in Hobart College, details some of the practices of the lynch mobs.

In Mississippi a Negro woman had five splinters run into her body and was then slowly burned alive by white men – because the mob had failed to capture her husband. A Texas mob burned a Negro in a courthouse vault. A Georgian mob beat an insane man to death in a hospital. A Tennessee mob tied a fifteen-year-old boy to a train. Mobs in Tennessee and Georgia disemboweled pregnant women. In Louisiana they sewed a man in a sack, weighted it with stone, and threw him into a lake. In Mississippi they buried a man up to his neck, placed a steel cage over his head, and loosed a bull dog into the cage. A Mississippi mob bored corkscrews into the flesh of Luther Holbert and his wife, in arms, legs, and body, and then pulled them out, the spirals pulling with them big pieces of raw quivering flesh every time. Henry Lowry was burned to death over a slow fire in 1921. “Inch by inch the Negro was fairly cooked to death.” Nine months later men, women and children in Hubbard, Texas, roasted a Negro to death and, to increase his pain, jabbed sticks into his mouth, nose and ears. In 1937 a mob at Duck Hill, Mississippi, tortured two Negroes with a blow torch before shooting them. “Occasionally fingers, toes and ears have been cut off the living wretch and distributed for souvenirs. Photographs are quickly sold out.”

And the “authorities”?

Huey Long did not think it worth while to bother himself about an investigation. It wouldn’t “do the dead nigga no good.” When a Negro association sent a telegram to Governor Bilbo protesting against a lynching, Bilbo replied, “Go to hell.” Cole Blease, Governor of South Carolina, said to a leader of a mob, “I will turn you loose when charged with lynching a Negro who is accused of assault on a white woman.” On another occasion, when campaigning for election to the Senate, Blease found himself at Union, S.C., where not long before a lynching had taken place. He marked the occasion feelingly: “Whenever the Constitution comes between men and the virtue of the white women of South Carolina, I say to hell with the Constitution.”

“Only A Stage”

These gentlemen make “moderate” speeches about states’ rights in Congress. But that is not the language and the arguments they use to their own constituents. Let the last word be with Franklin Roosevelt, President of the United States, the great crusader for human rights against Hitler and other enemies of “democracy.” What has he to say about lynching? Zero. Exactly that. Not a word of rebuke to the filibusterers who year after year have killed the bill. And why? Because Roosevelt knows that lynching is no accidental phenomenon. It is rooted not only in the history but in the whole economic and social system of the South. These Southern politicians are not defending white “womanhood.” They are defending Southern property, power and privilege.

And Franklin Roosevelt is defending Southern property, power and privilege too. So that if Southern property, power and privilege need to keep this two-edged sword between black and white poor in the South, Franklin D. keeps his mouth shut. If he and his New Dealers could put an end to lynching without disrupting the social and economic bases of capitalism, they would. But first things come first. They leave lynching Where it is as a means of preserving the system. We, however, will not leave lynching where it is. We support the attack on it in Congress. But that is only a stage in the fight. It has to be torn up by the roots, and the roots are in the capitalist system.

Last updated on 16 July 2018