W.F. Carlton

Portrait: A “Friend of the Negroes”

(June 1945)

From Labor Action, Vol. IX No. 24, 11 June 1945, p. 4.
Transcribed & marked up by Einde O’Callaghan for the Marxists’ Internet Archive.

THOMAS A. MORGAN of Sperry Corporation has now joined the ranks of capitalist “Friends of the Negro.” He has worked his way into the position of Chairman of the United Negro College Fund. This is a fund for aiding the treasuries of Negro colleges and is subscribed to by such friends of the Negroes as the Rockefellers.

But Morgan of Sperry’s is not only a declared friend of the Negro colleges. He is now a friend of the Negro worker.

“Friend” of Negroes

In the Amsterdam News of May 26 Morgan gave an interview on Negroes in labor. Morgan announced that he was against drawing the color line anywhere. Let us repeat that for future reference. Morgan, Thomas A. Morgan, president of the Sperry Corporation, chairman of the board of Sperry Gyroscope Company, tells a Negro reporter that he is against drawing the color line anywhere.

He held forth on economic prospects after the war and foretold prosperity. Morgan’s economics do not interest us much, particularly because they seemed based on his conception of himself as “an optimist.” What he had to say about Negroes, however, was worth noting. “The future of the Negro in American industry and labor,” he said, “is the future of the nation.”

Very correct. Then he added,

“We face a very different situation now in relation to the Negro than at any time in the past. As a result of the war, the Negro entered industry on a wide scale and in large numbers, and the long period of training and apprenticeship which was necessary before the war is no longer required, because methods and techniques of production had to be improved and stepped-up to meet the ever-increasing demands of the war.

“The old ways have broken down. The most hopeful aspect of the future of the Negro in industry is the elimination of the long training period. This was and could be used as an excuse not to hire Negro workers in that they lacked training and experience. The Negro of today has more confidence in himself and his fellow workers than at any time in the history of his integration into the industrial life of the country.”

Also very correct. Morgan then praised Negroes. They had shown themselves the equal of any other race or nationality on the performance level with the most intricate of precision instruments. Good. Negroes don’t need such recommendations, but at any rate it is to Morgan’s credit that he expresses these opinions instead of the opinions of Senator Rankin. Morgan is a large employer of Negro labor. About ten per cent of his employees, 1,000, are Negroes.

A “Friend in Need”

All this sounds fine. But Morgan himself gives the whole show away in the interview. This benefactor of Negro colleges and admirer of the Negro employed no Negro labor before May 1941.

He said that there were no labor shortages in the areas where he employed workers. So that it was the labor shortage which brought Morgan to see the light where Negroes were concerned. He could not get anybody else. As long as there was no shortage he employed no Negroes. He employed Negroes because he had to.

See the process. A Capitalist employs no Negroes. As far as he is concerned, they can starve. Then he cannot get labor. He is compelled to hire Negroes. Whereupon he comes forward and presents himself as benefactor of the Negro workers.

Morgan says that when cutbacks began in 1943, whereas twenty per cent of white were cut back, the corresponding figures for Negroes were only six per cent. “Therefore,” he says, Negroes “are more than holding their own with us.”

Who is this “us”? Morgan hasn’t got one single thing to do with this. It is the union which sees after these things, Morgan or no Morgan.

Morgan is a Southerner – from North Carolina. He said that the caste system in the South is a matter of “economics.” It will disappear as “economic opportunity becomes more equalized.” And how will this be done? “Education is the solution.”

This is downright nonsense. It isn’t the lack of education that makes the Southern plantation owner rob and cheat the sharecropper. It isn’t lack of education on anybody’s part that makes Jim Crow prevalent throughout the South. It is a rotten economic system, which imposes the type of education which suits its reactionary practices.

And here Morgan’s role as chairman of the United Negro College Fund conies in. We know nothing about Morgan in particular as far as Negro colleges are concerned. But this we know. Those big capitalists who give money for Negro colleges in nineteen cases out of twenty gain the opportunity, directly or indirectly, of controlling and influencing Negro education. And the Negro education they pay for is the kind of education designed to breed a caste of docile Negroes, Negroes who will perpetuate the system of capitalism and not break it.

And, finally, when Morgan says that he is against drawing the color line anywhere, he is laying it on too thick. When he has ten per cent or something like that of his office staff as Negroes, then he can make some of these wild statements. Not before.

No. Morgan employs Negroes because he has to. He gives money to Negro colleges because he wants to ingratiate himself with Negroes so that he may appear as a “friend” and thus influence the thinking of Negroes to suit his interests and aims. But the labor movement and Negroes in the labor movement should not thereby see Morgan either as friend or benefactor of Negroes. He is a capitalist employer doing what so many other “philanthropists” who profit from labor and hand out a few dollars do to aid the people they rob and cheat.

Last updated on 8 June 2016