J.R. Johnson

The Negro Question

(24 February 1940)

From Socialist Appeal, Vol. IV No. 8, 24 February 1940, p. 3.
Transcribed & marked up by Einde O’Callaghan for the Marxists’ Internet Archive.

On the ground that their confessions were extorted by torture, the U.S. Supreme Court upheld the petition of four young Negroes against sentence of death by the Supreme Court of Florida.

In May 1933 an elderly white man was murdered in Pompano, Florida. Immediately the murder was discovered, between 25 and 40 Negroes were arrested, among them the petitioners. From May 14 to May 20, the 25 to 40 Negro suspects were subjected to questioning and cross-questioning, resulting in the “confessions of the four accused.” The evidence compels Justice Black to state that “the prisoners at no time during the week were permitted to see or confer with counsel or a single friend or relative. When carried singly from his cell and subjected to questioning, each found himself, a single prisoner, surrounded in a fourth floor jail room by four to ten men, the County Sheriff, his deputies, a convict guard, and other white officers and citizens of the community. As an ex-Ku Klux Klanner and a Southerner, Black understood well the significance of the fourth floor. A Negro knows that at any time in these proceedings he is liable to be thrown out of the window, after which his questioners would unitedly swear that he had jumped.

The necessary confessions were obtained. Justice Black quotes, “They bring one of them at a time backwards and forwards until they confessed.” They were tried and sentenced on no other evidence than these confessions.

Here is a tale, one of ten thousand, of the organized terror against Negroes, by citizens, Ku Klux Klanners, lynch mobs, judges, sheriffs, policemen, state governors, and Federal authorities, by which the millions of Negroes are kept in economic and political subjection for the greater glory of capitalist profits and the maintenance of American “democracy.” Every year there are hundreds of similar cases, most of which do not reach the Supreme Court at all.

Justice Black Prepares for War

Today, however, there is a war in Europe, in which the American capitalists are planning to intervene. British and German imperialism are at each other’s throats for the redivision of the world, and American capitalism seeks to become the dominant world power. The American people must be mobilized for war, and such is the bankruptcy of the capitalist system, that in its mad pursuit of imperialist aims, it has to fall back on the tattered, torn, and blood-stained slogan of the “defense of democracy.”

The Supreme Court therefore takes this case as a platform from which to pontificate on the evils of totalitarianism and the benefits of “democracy,” as exemplified in the Supreme Court of the United States. Justice Black has the impudence to make more than one reference to the Fourteenth Amendment, which was thrown into the waste-paper basket by many Southern states the day after it was passed and has remained there since. He speaks of “liberty-loving people,” pictures the Supreme Court as defender of the rights of “the poor, the ignorant, the numerically weak, the friendless and the powerless,” and contrasts the American way with the “rack, the thumbscrew, the wheel, solitary confinement,” and the exalted power of “some governments to punish manufactured crime dictatorially.” He concludes on a high note: “Under our constitutional system, courts stand against any winds that blow as havens of refuge ...”

The Negro People Know Better!

Some of the Scottsboro boys are still in jail. Every year Negroes are lynched, not only those that are listed in the press but the quiet, well-organized doing-away with Negroes who in one way or another threaten “white supremacy.” In state after state Negroes cannot vote. They are deprived of their social and political rights by brute force. The decisions of all courts in their favor are ignored or flouted. They are constantly insulted, beaten up, terrorized. Their groans and protests, sometimes subdued, now flaring up as the persecution becomes intolerable, are the permanent accompaniment of American life. And yet this ex-member of the Klan, with his eyes on his script and his mind on imperialist war, reads his piece about American courts being a haven of refuge against winds that blow.

The press has taken its cue and has repeated in swelling chorus the theme of the distinguished soloist. “We are not as they.” And if “we,” whose courts are a haven against all the winds that blow, are not as “they,” the dictatorships, shouldn’t we be ready to die for these privileges? The fifteen million cheated Negroes, the millions of unemployed and their starving families, will know how to treat this impudent piece of war propaganda, this blatant self-justification, this stupid attempt to throw dust into the eyes of the Negro people.

Justice Black has lifted the case of these unfortunate Negroes (for if there was any evidence against them it would have been heard) from its place as one of a never-ending list of tyranny and injustice into a plea for the support of American and its imperialistic adventures aboard. But the tyranny and violence of three hundred years are not pushed aside so easily. They will be pushed aside not by rosy-hued lies from a war-monger’s loud-speaker, but by the united voice of millions of workers, black and white, shouting the slogans of socialism. They will be destroyed only when the system which breeds them is destroyed. Our aim is the destruction not only of the naked dictatorships abroad but of the thinly veiled dictatorships at home.

Last updated on 16 July 2018