J.R. Johnson

We Must Help Our Brothers in the South

(5 August 1940)

The Negro’s Fight, Labor Action, Vol. 4 No. 17, 5 August 1940, p. 4.
Transcribed & marked up by Einde O’Callaghan for the Marxists’ Internet Archive.

At the Chicago Convention of the Democratic Party history was made. The Democratic Party, for the first time, decided to take notice of the fact that Negroes existed in the United States. The section of the platform which dealt with Negroes ran as follows:

“Our Negro citizens have participated actively in the economic and social advances launched by this Administration, including fair labor standards, social security benefits, health protection, work relief projects, decent housing, aid to education, and the rehabilitation of low-income farm families.

“We have aided more than half a million Negro youths in vocational training education and employment. We shall continue to strive for complete legislative safeguards against discrimination in government service and benefits, and in the national defence forces.

“We pledge to uphold due process and the equal protection of the laws for every citizen, regardless of race, creed and color.”

Laugh to Keep from Getting Mad

Now that is quite harmless. When a Democratic or Republican politician stands on his hind legs and says “I pledge myself to uphold equal protection of the laws for every citizen regardless of race ...,” every Negro within earshot laughs loud and long. Naturally Negroes would prefer to do something else beside laugh. The laugh is not pleasant. But it is better to laugh so as to restrain oneself from shying a brick at the babbler. He deserves the brick, of course, but in politics we must organize, agitate, fight in unions and political parties, not shy bricks at any casual servant of American capitalism lying for his daily bread.

But harmless as was this usual piece of political fakery it caused a fight on the Convention floor. A Southern delegate standing directly before the rostrum where Senator Wagner was reading the rubbish, grew so angry on hearing it that he turned to the Negro nearest to him and told him to take his hat off. “Pull off that god damned hat, Nigger. Don’t you know that white women are in this hall?” Half the people in the hall were wearing hats. The Southern delegate was wearing one, but a Negro must be kept in his place, and of course it is known in the South, that according to science, a Negro allowed to wear a hat in a white woman’s presence always ends by attempting to rape her. The Negro who had been accosted with this courtesy for which the South, is so distinguished, behaved in a manner most discourteous. He gave the Southerner one on the jaw and laid him out flat. People standing near rushed the white man away and that was that.

Now why did this Southerner behave in that way? The Democratic Party had promised peace and the Southerner knew that Franklin Roosevelt, his chief, is the greatest war-monger that America has ever had. The Democratic Party had promised to maintain the social gains and Mr. Southerner knew that ever since the national defense racket began, every employer is busy slashing at labor. And the Democratic Party had promised to protect civil liberties but the Government is busy passing bills against aliens, and inciting the lynch spirit against all who oppose its plans.

Yet, when these were read, the Southern delegate did not lose his temper and start insulting people near him. Like a good politician he knew that a platform has two objects, one to fool the people, the other to get their votes. Did the Southerner believe that Franklin Roosevelt, the chief of the Democratic Party, was going to enforce the law on behalf of Negroes? Nonsense. Roosevelt has been President for nearly eight years, and the law is still the same old law, capitalist law for the protection of the rich and for the oppression of the poor. Mr. Southerner knew that the plank in the platform meant nothing. Yet he went hay-wire. Why?

Afraid of Even a False Promise

First, in all probability, being a Southerner he couldn’t keep his temper at hearing even obviously false promises about Negroes. But there is a deeper reason, the same reason which kept all mention of the Negroes out of the platform all these years. The reason is this: In the South the Negroes are made to understand that they are a people apart, hewers of wood and drawers of water. They have no rights.

Now when you make a promise in a platform it means not that you are going to carry it out – God forbid; it means however that you consider the persons to whom you make as citizens, as persons with rights. And such is the situation in the South that the Southern delegate couldn’t stand even the idea of such a thing.

There is something to be learnt here. We who have a little more freedom in the North must use it to help our brothers in the South – not by listening to Democratic or Republican promises (who doesn’t know by now what those are worth will never know) but by intensifying our own propaganda and agitation addressed directly to the Negroes in the South. In the past the revolutionary movement has scandalously neglected this duty. We must strive to make the Southern Negroes feel that they are free and equal citizens to-day in the revolutionary army, and tomorrow in the socialist society.

Last updated on 6.10.2012