From Labor Action, Vol. 8 No. 36, 4 September 1944, p. 3.
Transcribed & marked up by Einde O’Callaghan for MIA.
The Roosevelt Administration continues to play its brazen political tricks with “the Negro people. A few days ago, that is to say, four years after the beginning of conscription, it has issued an order banning segregation in GI post exchanges, theaters and transportation. Negro soldiers now, according to this order, can go into any Army theater. They can travel, according to this order, in any United States bus or truck. According to this order, they will not be compelled to sit in the rear seat of these vehicles. The order is dated July 18, 1944. The election for the presidency takes place in November of this same 1944.
Now a great number of people hail this as a great victory and claim that it shows that President Roosevelt is a true friend of the Negro people, etc., etc. None are more vociferous about this than the members of the Communist Party. Benjamin J. Davis, the Negro New York City councilman, writes in the Daily Worker of August 27:
“It is the dictates of military necessity in a war which requires that the forces of right win over the forces of evil, and that element of compulsion, is as permanent, as moral and as powerful as Lincoln’s wise Emancipation Proclamation was, a military blow against the slavocracy.”
We have to ask two questions: First of all, who is to enforce this order?
As has been well said, Negroes in this country have every conceivable right that it is possible for them to have – on paper. Let any believer in the Declaration of Independence and the Bill of Rights, with one of in either hand, go down into Georgia or Mississippi and try to enforce them.
People’s Voice, which is always whooping it up for FDR, carried another miserable story lately of a Negro soldier who recently spent one year at hard labor in prison. He reports that he and four others were tried by a court-martial, found guilty of rioting and sentenced to do one year at hard labor. He spent more than twelve months in prison and nine of these months were spent on the rock pile. He states that all who testified against him were asked if the soldiers were rioting. The witnesses all replied, “No.” Nevertheless, the accused were all found guilty. When he left the army he was forced to sign some kind of restoration papers, which said that he requested restoration in the Army, and he was put back into it. Now listen to the conclusion of his own story:
“I was sent to Louisiana and to Mississippi and then to Georgia. A short while ago, I was walking on the sidewalk in Georgia and a white military policeman told me to get off the sidewalk whenever I saw a white person coming.”
This is an example that could be multiplied over by hundreds and, with the necessary research, by thousands.
Now we can estimate what the value of this order is when it is to be administered in Louisiana, Mississippi and Georgia by white military police. And further, if conflict arises, to ;be settled by military court-martials which, in certain areas and with certain personnel, will be exactly of the same type which found these soldiers guilty of rioting when the very witnesses against the accused testified unanimously against the accusation.
We do not deny that the actual issuance of this order will mean improvement in certain instances of the meaner facilities offered to Negro soldiers. As such, the order represents an advance and we welcome it.
But the fact remains that the army is built on the Jim Crow model. In many army camps Negroes frequently are in a small minority with thousands of Southern soldiers. They are commanded by Southern officers, sometimes surrounded by Southern communities which are hostile to the very sight of a Negro in military uniform. Under all these circumstances so familiar to everyone, to hail this order as if some serious blow were being struck at Jim Crow is nothing else but a gross deception of the Negro people.
And why? This brings us to our second point. The main thing about this order is that it is an election maneuver. The Democratic Party is nervous about the Negro vote. At the recent Democratic Party convention in Chicago, the Southern bloc compelled the Roosevelt government, to pretend that the Negro question did not exist. The Republicans, seeking the Negro vote, produced a platform which Walter White has characterized as “dishonest and stupid.” But “this dishonest and stupid platform promised an immediate inquiry into the extent of discrimination against Negroes in the Army and corrective legislation. PM writes about this plank: “The plank about the Army is a phoney.”
Good. The Republican platform is dishonest and stupid. Its plank about the Army is a phoney. But it is the Roosevelt government which has not been able to put forward any platform at all. And it is the Roosevelt government which is responsible for the shameful and continuous discrimination against Negroes in the Army. The Roosevelt government obviously could not promise an inquiry into its own crimes nor promise legislation. It is under these circumstances that, after four years of war, the War Department issues this order. It is aimed at counteracting the deep-seated dissatisfaction of the Negro people at the state of affairs in the Army.
The Negro people should not for one moment be deceived with nonsense about this order being equal in moral force to Lincoln’s Emancipation Proclamation. Nothing but the mass pressure of the Negro people and the organized agitation of the labor movement will compel a United States government to begin the drastic steps which are neccessary to reorganize the Army and the whole social order so that legislation of this type will begin to have some serious effect.
Last updated on 15 December 2015