J.R. Johnson

One-Tenth of the Nation

The Case of the 92nd

(June 1945)

From Labor Action, Vol. IX No. 26, 25 June 1945, p. 3.
Transcribed & marked up by Einde O’Callaghan for the Marxists’ Internet Archive.

For months now, the case of the 92nd Division, a Negro outfit, has reverberated through the Negro press. The capitalist press has had echoes of it. It is clear that we shall hear more of it, particularly in the postwar period.

The 92nd was stationed in Italy and fought in the Italian campaign. Toward the end of the campaign the rumors began to spread that the 92nd had not met the test of war. When this appeared in the press, the bitterness and protests of the Negro people began at once. Soon it had reached such a pitch that the War Department sent its Negro representative, Truman Gibson, to Italy to investigate and, if possible, patch up a situation which had become an international scandal.

Truman Gibson is one of the capitalist spokesmen who do their dirty work among the Negroes: The job he has was once held by Judge Hastie. These aides to the Secretary of War are supposed to represent Negro interests in the Army. So flagrant was the discrimination, so obvious the failure of the Roosevelt government to do anything about it that Hastie resigned. Now Truman Gibson found himself in Italy representing the War Department and representing the Negroes at the same time.

An Infamous Interview

The result could have been foreseen. At a press conference packed with reporters, Gibson gave a now-famous interview. It amounted to a long whitewash of the black record of the Administration’s treatment of the Negroes.

He blamed the weakness upon some abstract difficulties of Negroes as if he didn’t know where the difficulties originated. He took it upon himself to say that the 92nd had “melted away” under fire. He said that the record of the 92nd “presents a rather dismal picture.” There was a universal demand for his resignation. But Gibson continues in his job.

Now General Clark, commander of the American Army in Italy, has returned home. Speaking before 60,000 people in Chicago he said: “Our Negro troops were among our most valuable assets.” He spoke of the “glorious 92nd” and refused to discuss Truman Gibson’s statements. But, true or not true, the charges have gone abroad.

Roi Ottley, PM correspondent in Italy, has investigated the charges and reports that they were unfounded. But he leaves no doubt that in morale and fighting spirit something was radically wrong with the 92nd.

Negro Press Replies

To the charge that the Negro soldiers in the division were below the average in education, the Negro press replied that even if this were true, the fault is the fault of the American government. It sanctions the Jim Crow system in education and allows numerous Southern states to spend five times as much on the education of one white child as on the education of a Negro child.

On the question of morale, the reply is devastating. The men know that they are not fighting for democracy. They did not live in a true democracy, they know they are not going back to any democracy! The Negro press refuses to take any apologetic attitude. While it argues the case for and against the charges, it states emphatically: If anything is wrong, you, the authorities, are responsible. This is a long way from the days when Negro publicists took examples of Negro excellence and boosted them to whites, hoping to achieve equality thereby.

So it is. But that is only one part of the story. In the integration which took place in the German campaign, men from Negro service battalions were trained, incorporated as combat troops, and won high opinions for themselves. The present case is different. If the 92nd is broken up and incorporated with white regiments, then however well the men fight, nothing will wash away the stain that the 92nd Division, as a Negro division, was a failure.

The labor movement should take note of these things. Such a struggle as the struggle of the Negro people for common justice in the Army can be used by capitalism to divide and disrupt the workers. The same struggle call be used by labor to strengthen and consolidate labor. The Negro struggle for just treatment in the Army is a struggle for democratic rights. And where anyone struggles for his own rights he struggles for the rights of all.

Last updated on 8 June 2016