From Labor Action, Vol. 7 No. 26, 28 June 1943, p. 3.
Transcribed & marked up by Einde O’Callaghan for MIA.
The events in Beaumont, Texas, have been overshadowed by the tremendous outburst in Detroit. But they are essentially of the same order, belong to the same series of events, and demand some consideration.
As a result of an alleged “rape of a white woman,” attacks on Negroes took place on June 16. At least two people were killed and many wounded. Scores were beaten and the Negro district was set afire by mobs bent on destroying whole sections of the Negro area. There were at least sixteen fires raging together at one period. Hundreds were arrested and martial law was declared.
The alleged cause of the outburst is the rumor that a white woman was “raped” by a Negro. The nonsensical circumstances which were supposed to have surrounded the raping were sufficient to prove that this was a more than usually flagrant case of the usual Southern fakery. City Attorney Albert Tatum has stated that the woman had been examined by a physician and there was no sign of rape. She said that a Negro had drunk a cup of coffee in her house before he attacked her. The cup and saucer were examined and there were no fingerprints on them.
Yet it would be a mistake to look upon this as merely another Southern racial conflict. The root of the question lies in the relationship between capital and labor.
The whole trend of events both before Beaumont and after point to this. Under pressure of the necessities of war production and also the dogged fight that the masses of the Negroes are putting up for their rights, numbers of Negroes are being admitted into industry and, to a small degree, to higher positions in production all over the country. As can be expected, this meets with a certain opposition from the more backward elements among the white workers, particularly in areas where the sharp division in social life has to be overcome with drastic suddenness in the compelling integration of modern production.
It was inevitable that there should be, friction and that, in certain instances, this friction should flare up into bloody outbursts.
But that is not at all sufficient to account for what has been happening in Mobile, in Beaumont, and now in Detroit. First of all, the white employers in the Southern states have too long encouraged Ku Klux Klanners and other professional Negro-haters. They cannot expect that these elements would see this integration between whites and Negroes taking place without doing their utmost to ruin a unity which has been, the chief object of their attack in the past. The Klanners and their associates have existed all these years, purely on the basis of preventing what is taking place now under their very eyes at a rate which, though small in itself, is unprecedented in comparison to what has taken place in the past and what they see is still more likely to take place tomorrow.
But there is another side to this question. The employers themselves, especially in the Southern areas, must view with fear these first steps by the masses of the Negroes on the ladder of equality. What is taking place, particularly in the South, must lead to a struggle to destroy wage differentials between white and Negro labor. The employers are making big money at the present time and they do not want disruption of production and destruction of property to the degree that has taken place in Beaumont. That is certain. But it is certain also that they are quite aware of the danger to capital not in the future but in the immediate present of this growing unity between Negro and white labor in the South.
Rumors of the approaching outburst had been running around in, Beaumont for weeks. This has been established by the Negro press. And if the employers were really concerned about preventing outbursts of this kind, they and the local authorities could easily have taken concerted action. While they are probably seriously put out by what has taken place, it is a legitimate opinion that they would not have objected to some disturbance which would sharpen the distinction between the whites and Negroes and give them their usual commanding position in playing one off against the other so as to keep the wages down.
The Stalinists, as usual, see in these outbursts nothing else but “the hand of the Axis.” The National Maritime Union, led by Smith, a Stalinist, has wired President Roosevelt to say that Packard, Mobile, and now Beaumont “must be recognized as a concerted campaign of disruption and disunity unleashed by sinister appeasement and fascist elements in America.” The Stalinists and PM are foremost among those actually encouraging the view that “Axis agents” have been deliberately fomenting these outbursts.
Whether that is so or not, and it may well be, the fact remains that no Axis agent could possibly instigate any such flare-up were it not for the fact that the whole course of American capitalism has laid the basis for just such outbursts as these.
Last updated on 24 May 2015