From Labor Action, Vol. 7 No. 31, 2 August 1943, p. 4.
Transcribed & marked up by Einde O’Callaghan for MIA.
From all parts of the country comes news of the dangerous racial tension. It is necessary only to list a few to recognize their full significance.
From Beaumont, Texas, comes the news that white citizens have asked for the removal of the police, because it was the lack of police control which caused the riots and no effort was made to bring them under control after they had begun.
A Negro soldier writes to the People’s Voice from Fort Bliss that ammunition has been taken away from the Negro soldiers, but that the whites are allowed to keep theirs.
A Negro soldier has been killed with a dum-dum bullet. This type of bullet, because of its devastating effect where it hits, has been banned from regular warfare. The medical staff is refusing aid to colored soldiers.
In Greenville, N.C., there was a wave of popular resentment against the killing of an ex-soldier by two state highway patrolmen. Letters poured in the Governor’s office, the Pitt County Board of Commissioners and the Greenville Board of Aldermen.
All over the Negro press you see stories and headlines like this: “Soldier En Route to Louisiana Camp Threatened with Lynching by Southern White Military Policemen”; “ICC Regrets Negro Corporal Was Barred from Diner of Train” and again, “Acquit Coast Guardsman of Killing Negro Worker.”
The California Eagle front pages the statement of a California cop to a colored woman reporter: “You n........s don’t know your place any more.” And he concluded with the threat of “showing Central Avenue how to keep order in the Detroit, Michigan, style.”
Now, before the recent outbursts in Mobile, Beaumont and Detroit, incidents like these filled the press. People talked about them but nobody did anything. They culminated in the shameful and bloody business in Detroit.
Now everything is different. Everyone realizes the danger. The result is that incidents of the kind we have given as examples become potent forces in kindling still greater tensions. A white cop will pass a rude remark to a colored woman any day in the week. But this time he refers to Detroit. The woman goes to a committee, which accuses the police of instigating the zoot-suit riots. In this atmosphere anything can happen at any time.
For the most dangerous aspect of the whole business is that white soldiers and colored soldiers are continually in conflict, then colored soldiers get into conflict with the local white populations in the South, and the colored soldiers are mercilessly Jim Crowed by the Federal Government, the Army and the Navy. It is becoming obvious to all that the police, who are also armed, are hostile to the Negro people.
The stage is set for a real battle in which white soldiers, colored soldiers, police and civilians will engage in some of the bloodiest fighting American soil has seen for years. In New York, in Newark, in Chicago, in Buffalo, in Philadelphia, the situation is such that authorities and “race” leaders are holding meetings and calling upon the people to take pledges to preserve the peace and similar nonsense.
The Negro civilian population is in danger and the Negro civilian population must defend itself when it is attacked. But they must learn that defense is first and foremost a political question. They must organize themselves for defense of their heads and all their legitimate rights.
Then, IMMEDIATELY, they must go to the labor movement and place the whole case before them. The large majority of the working class and many others in this country, whatever the prejudices they have, do not want to see Negroes assaulted and beaten up or shot either by hoodlums or police. They, like the Negroes, expect the government to protect its citizens. But the government does not do so. The Negroes themselves must therefore go to the only powerfully organized force in the country that can protect them – the labor movement.
It is true that some reactionary workers are hostile to Negroes. The large majority are not. The Negroes can use particularly those Negro workers who are already in unions to present the case for the Negro community in the unions. In nine case out of ten they will get a good reception and help.
Finally, the labor movement must realize its own interest in this question. The bosses will use race riots to bust up the unions. By coming to the defense of the Negroes, they defend the unions.
The Negroes are in danger. They form a substantial part of the nation. The government does not protect them. Labor must undertake this. Labor must begin to recognize its own responsibilities as the future leader of the nation. It begins to assume those responsibilities when it takes upon itself the defense of all sections of the oppressed against boss tyranny. Every class-conscious worker, Negro and white, will bear this in mind as he carefully plans the defense of the Negro people.
Last updated on 12 June 2015