J.R. Johnson

One-Tenth of the Nation

Freeport and Columbia Murders

(11 March 1946)

From Labor Action, Vol. X No. 10, 11 March 1946, p. 3.
Transcribed & marked up by Einde O’Callaghan for the Marxists’ Internet Archive.

On February 4, in Freeport, Long Island, a boom town of the war industries, a policeman killed two Negro boys and wounded a third. They were brothers and all either at present in the armed forces or recently discharged. It was cold-blooded, deliberate murder. The consequence was an explosion of social tension. Immediately after the shootings, the police found it necessary to throw a cordon around the Freeport bus terminal, and men with tommy guns and tear gas were placed at strategic points to "await a possible uprising of local Negroes.”

Today the nation as a whole is further startled by what has taken place in Columbia, Tenn. A Negro woman and her son, Jimmy Stevenson, a Navy veteran, resisted slander and attack by a white man. Word spread in the Negro community (known as Mink Slide) that the whites were coming to the settlement to get Stevenson. Stevenson took shelter in the home of neighbors and the rest of the Negro community mobilized to resist the arrest, which they feared would end in a lynching. The police came to Mink Slide with pistols blazing.

Between 8 p.m. Monday, February 25, and 8 a.m. Tuesday, a bloody riot raged in Columbia. Armed Negroes swarmed to the defense of the Negro district, barricading their stores and homes. Policemen, National Guardsmen and State Guardsmen not only raided the homes and businesses of the Negroes, but riddled them with machine guns. Among the arms used by the Negroes were many which had been brought back from Europe by discharged Negro veterans. Captured were six double-barreled shotguns, nine single barreled shotguns, one German machine gun, several knives and many hundred rounds of ammunition.

When the toll was taken Tuesday morning, there had been ten persons wounded, four policemen, four white townsmen and two Negroes. Over 65 persons were arrested, all Negroes. Armed bands of whites rambled through the town. Five hundred guardsmen patrolled the streets. While the white administration of Columbia was promising the Negroes that these guardsmen were for their protection as well as for that of the whites, two of the Negro prisoners were murdered in the jail.

What They Signify

I want to draw attention here not only to these incidents themselves but to what they signify. It is clear that such explosions are evidence of a tremendous underlying social tension revolving around the race question. Observers in Harlem and in other towns report that evidences of the feeling which preceded the explosions in 1943 are once more noticeable. This time, however, the presence of Negro veterans, trained in the use of arms, some of which they have brought with them, creates the possibility of bloody conflicts on a scale exceeding those which took place when the soldiers were away from home.

It must not be thought that the incidents and their repercussions are confined to Freeport or Columbia. Negro communities all over the country are seething with indignation. The NAACP and other Negro organizations are as usual protesting mightily but doing nothing to mobilize the great masses of the Negro people in demonstrations which can give effective force to the rage which consumes them.

The Workers Party joins in the protests which have arisen from all party of the country among whites and Negroes alike at these examples of American capitalist vandalism. For the time being I shall quote the last paragraph of my column of February 25 which dealt with the attempts of Negro veterans in Alabama to exercise their voting rights.

“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 problems, 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 full democratic rights.”

Last updated on 6 August 2018