J.R. Johnson

One-Tenth of the Nation

Eisenhower and Jim Crow

(2 July 1945)

From Labor Action, Vol. IX No. 27, 2 July 1945, p. 3.
Transcribed & marked up by Einde O’Callaghan for the Marxists’ Internet Archive.

Last week I noted the stir over the military performance of the 92nd Division and the contradictory nature of the reports. Truman Gibson, Negro civilian, aide to the Secretary of War, sent to Italy to investigate, said that the 92nd had “melted away under fire.”

General Mark Clark, the commander of the AEF in Italy, called the 92nd “our glorious 92nd, ” but refused to discuss the Gibson statement. Now, however, the supreme Allied commander himself, General Eisenhower, has found himself under fire on the Negro question in the Army. His answers are a noteworthy contribution to the situation of the Negro in the united States and in the whole post-war world.

Eisenhower’s Ideas

Eisenhower was giving no ordinary interview. He was summing up his experiences and his conclusions drawn from the whole war. His military conclusion was: the value of integrated tactical power in war. That was the last word he wanted to leave with the correspondents – the necessity of integrating all departments of combat, artillery, air, infantry, navy, into one whole. It was in keeping with his whole policy.

Now, whether Eisenhower is a great soldier or not is of no importance to the labor movement. But one thing has stood out in his campaigns and in his leadership and some judgment can be passed on it. He fought for an integrated Anglo-American army. The frictions between the Allies in World War I had repeatedly brought immense losses. Eisenhower had taken the lesson to heart. And his publicity department at any rate never failed to make it clear that this was one of the main objects of his strategy.

Thus integration, collective, homogeneous action, emerge as the General’s main strategy of action during the war. In this he is in his own way in harmony with the developing social characteristics of our age, which must be respected even by the ruling class.

In the midst of his interview a reporter shot at Eisenhower the following query: Comment on the contribution Negro soldiers made to the European theater of operations.

Eisenhower’s first sentences were characteristic. Here they are:

“To start with, I would like to say this: that I do not differentiate among soldiers. I do not say white soldiers or Negro soldiers and I do not say American or British soldiers. To my mind, I have had a task in this war that makes me look upon soldiers as soldiers.”

How far Eisenhower has been able to carry out this policy, in general, is one thing. That he strove to diminish differences, to integrate into a whole, can be abundantly proved. The words, therefore, came automatically to his lips: “I do not differentiate among soldiers.”

Is His Claim True?

With all due respect to the victorious general, I beg to say that his claim not to have differentiated between white soldiers and Negroes is eyewash. His own reply, brief as it was, shows that.

He said that their work was good, as far as he saw and as far as the reports showed. He complimented the volunteers who filled an emergency last November and did good work. Then he continued:

“But their major job has been in service of supply, engineer units, quartermaster units, ordnance units ... They have done their job and they have done the job given them.”

The General was on the spot and he knew it. Look in particular at the last sentence:

“They have done their job and they have done the job given them.”

It is an awkward, self-conscious sentence and can be explained only by the contradiction between the General’s pet theme –all soldiers under my command are equal soldiers – and the hard reality – Negroes were used in his army chiefly for services of supply.

The fact is that the Army could more easily “integrate”American soldiers with British than it could American white soldiers with American Negro soldiers. In the First World War one Negro regiment was treated so shamefully by the American commanders that the French asked for it. It was brigaded with them and fought as a French unit until the end of the war.

Eisenhower could praise Negro soldiers and Truman Gibson could damn them. The fact remains that there is no way of integrating Negroes into the Army until they are integrated into American society. You cannot have a Jim Crow society and a non-Jim Crow army. So that the efforts at collective action, completely integrated units of war, reached at least one impassible barrier.

Still a Jim Crow Army

The Negroes were soldiers of service and supply. Polish soldiers fought in the European theater. Since the defeat of the Germans in France, French armies have taken their place in the war under Eisenhower’s command. All these can be integrated and welded afar as necessary and possible into a collective whole.

But the Negroes – no, they must in their majority stay where American society has decreed that they must stay – segregated and as always with segregation, doing the hardest and dirtiest jobs.

The press-conference, as Eisenhower said, was one of the last in which he would meet so many reporters. He made some historical pronouncements. Some were controversial and he admitted that frankly. Then suddenly the Negro question was interjected and at once the General was in difficulties. The non-integration, the segregation of Negroes, the discrimination against them could not be camouflaged. It stuck out in the long, careful survey. It was the only awkward question. The answer was the only awkward answer.

We should remember that Roosevelt, who could talk around anything, left such questions as lynching alone.

The Negroes had better take good note of all this. In a great national and international crisis, in which collective, integrated work was a necessity, the Negro soldiers were incorporated only in so far as their incorporation did not upset their economic and social position in American society. To think that the government will act to change this status substantially after the war would be the greatest folly imaginable.

Any serious change can come only from a fundamental change in the whole social order of the United States. Otherwise the Negroes will do as well as other citizens – but only in the jobs that are given them.

Last updated on 13 December 2017