J.R. Johnson

One-Tenth of the Nation

Southern Negro Vets Fight for Vote

(25 February 1946)

From Labor Action, Vol. X No. 8, 25 February 1946, p. 3.
Transcribed & marked up by Einde O’Callaghan for the Marxists’ Internet Archive.

Negro veterans in Alabama have made an organized demand for their voting rights. They marched through the streets of Birmingham and to the Jefferson County Court House for registration. They presented their discharge papers. Whereupon the three-man board asked them questions like the following:

The majority of the veterans were rejected as being unfit to exercise their vote, because they were unable to answer these and similar questions.

The demonstration is one of a series being organized by the Southern Negro Youth Congress. It was headed by a chaplain, Captain H.C. Tesser, a U.S. Army chaplain wearing his uniform. He was arrested and told not to use the army uniform for any political purposes. He replied diplomatically that the aim of the movement was to increase the number of registered voters and to stimulate the interests of the Negro veterans in government. He was released.

The veterans have given notice that they intend to file suit in support of their claims.

Bilbo’s Voting Base

It is by procedure of this kind that Senator Bilbo and other members of the Democratic Party are able to get themselves elected to Congress year after year; to filibuster against the fights of the Negro people, and oppose all progressive labor legislation. Where maneuvers of this kind are not sufficient to keep away the Negroes the Southerners use threats and, if necessary, violence. For the most part, however, in the smaller towns and counties in particular, the Negroes keep away from the registration boards and the polling booths. They know that they have to live with their oppressors for 364 days in the year besides voting day. To insist on voting on Monday could easily mean arrest on Wednesday on some flimsy charge for which conviction and a heavy sentence would automatically follow.

Even this prostitution of the law is not necessary. A Negro who wishes to exercise the revolutionary privilege of casting the vote and insists upon registration can be told to get out of town. And if he is “wise,” he packs up his wife, children, and baggage and gets out as fast as he can. The veterans of Birmingham may win their suit in the courts. That will not mean anything but some more publicity for the Negro cause. Congress and the courts are always giving the Negro rights in theory which he does not dare exercise in practice. At a certain stage, the passing of such legislation becomes a mockery of the Negro people.

The Negro Soldiers

Yet this demonstration and the similar ones that are planned hold immense possibilities. Never before have Negroes been so organized as the U.S. government organized them in the army. Negroes from all over the U.S. have been segregated in Jim Crow regiments. Their degraded status has been concretized to themselves on a national scale hitherto unknown. It has been demonstrated to some ten million white fellow citizens who were brought face to face by law and order with this most brutal manifestation of the Negro’s official position in American life. The degradation of the Negroes has been carried to every quarter of the globe, civilized and uncivilized.

The Negro soldier has seen himself as he is. To this has been added the bitterness that the whole world now knows him as an outcast and a pariah in his own country. The Negroes have responded by fighting some of their bitterest battles not against the enemy abroad, but against the enemy at home. Their concentration in regiments and divisions, the common consciousness of strength in unity, the sense of common humiliation, en

abled them to demonstrate their resentment wherever Negro troops were stationed. The story of their battle for their rights and their self-respect, particularly against the American troops, will certainly, be told and soon. But with discharge from the army they have lost the sense of cohesive action.

In many areas of the South, however, they have been getting together as veterans, determined to fight with the vigor and the coordination that they have learned in the army.

It is too early to speak with any precision of these Negro veterans in the. South. One thing, however, seems certain. In the year of the great strikes and the mass upsurge of labor, the Negro veteran in the South is ready to go the limit in defense of his rights as a citizen. Over and over again during the last five years this common thought has emerged from all discussions on the. Negro question:


The white Southerners themselves are aware of this. Rumors, and not all of them wild, have come from the South showing that the upholders of white supremacy ar e aware of the challenge and are preparing to meet it. Filibusters in Congress will not diminish, but will accentuate the tension.

Among these Negroes are some of the forces for the socialist revolution in the United States. For the moment their consciousness may be circumscribed within the limits of their own special problem, but they are men who have seen the world and have been trained and disciplined in a hard school. With flexibility and understanding the revolutionary movement will not find it difficult to share the trials which await them and bring them to the knowledge that nothing but the overthrow of bourgeois society will give them their democratic rights.

Last updated on 6 August 2018