J.R. Johnson

One-Tenth of the Nation

“Law and Order” Wink at Lynch Terror in South

(26 August 1946)

From Labor Action, Vol. X No. 34, 26 August 1946, pp. 1 & 7.
Transcribed & marked up by Einde O’Callaghan for the Marxists’ Internet Archive.

There is a mounting wave of terror directed against Negroes.

Terror reigns in Athens, Ala. The probe into the recent outbreak was due to begin on Monday, August 19. Extra state policemen and local police were mobilized but the Negroes, 1,500 out of a population of 3,500, feared the worst They have not gone to the local theater to sit in their Jim Crow gallery. They were not seen in the shopping area on Saturday, August 17.

But in the streets Ku Klux Klan elements gather in groups and call for more mob action against the Negro ex-GI who, by defending himself against two white veterans, brought out the mob a week ago.

Typical of the attitude of the authorities is the following: The Southern Negro Youth Congress had sent Burnham, its executive secretary, from Birmingham to Athens by bus.

The State Safety Director informed leading Negro citizens of this fact. He said that he had been informed of Burnham’s trip by agents of the FBI. Burnham himself reported that his bus had been trailed by a highway patrol car for 14 miles and that he was shadowed by law officers wherever he went in Athens.

The FBI, the state highway patrol and the local law officers. See how efficient, effective and vigilant they are about the visit of an investigator. But twenty people will commit murder in Georgia and they cannot find one.

Law and order, state, federal and local, are on the side of the lynchers. That is the miserable, the shameful truth. And that constitutes the terror.

The Negro citizens report also that the State Safety Director gave them some advice. The advice was to tell Burnham “to get to hell out.”

Two More Lynchings

When such a situation exists in one town for miles around, a tremendous tension develops. Tens of thousands of people are affected.

On Saturday, August 17, came the news of two more lynchings – in North Carolina this time. J.C. Farmer, ex-GI, was shot down by a score of men in eight cars. James Walker was shot by a white filling station owner and his brother.

Note what happened. Farmer was standing waiting for a bus when a policeman ordered him into his car.

He said he had done nothing. The cop struck him on the head and a fight began. The officer’s gun went off, shooting the owner through the hand. An hour later the posse came up and shot Farmer full of bullets.

In Walker’s case he and Bill Craig had had a quarrel, just that, had had a quarrel.

The atmosphere is electric. Any slight quarrel can result in submission to unjustified arrest or resistance – and perhaps a lynching.

Mississippi, Too!

There has been another recent lynching of a Negro in Mississippi. The body was found floating in the river with the marks of blows on it. The name of the criminal is known.

Alabama, North Carolina, Georgia, the news of these outrages spreads like wildfire, bringing a blight and gloom on the lives of millions of Negroes in the South. No one knows when, going about his daily business, he may step into some altercation or misunderstanding with a white man and no one knows what the result will be.

Take the following, which occurred on Sunday, August 18, and Monday, August 19:

In Magee, Miss., on Monday, August 19, a posse of 200–300 officers and citizens was hunting a family of Negroes. Bloodhounds supported the combination of officers and citizens.

This is the story:

On Sunday, August 18, an automobile with white passengers attempted to pass an old truck with Negroes. Says the World-Telegram of August 19:

“As the automobile drew alongside, one of the Negroes jumped out of the truck and fired a shotgun into the car.”

This MAY have happened. But in the South, particularly the deep South, the driver of a car, if he is white, can demand the right of way from a Negro driver, even if the Negro driver is legally entitled to it. Furthermore, it would be important to hear the testimony of the Negroes themselves. At any rate, the white men reported the incident to the city marshal and four of them went to a house where they thought they would find the Negroes. As they approached, the Negroes opened fire. The white men retreated with wounds. The Negroes fled and the chase began. That is the atmosphere.

But in the North also, in their own way, the authorities are encouraging Negro persecution.

For months now a gang of hoodlums in Greenwich Village has been molesting Negroes who live or work there. Members of the gang are known. Complaints have been made to the Mayor and Commissioner Wallander. Nothing has been done. A deputation led by Walter White of the NAACP visited the Mayor. He complained about “Communist” agitation. The hoodlums are not fools. They read this and become bolder.

Another more subtle piece of anti-Negro action has occurred in regard to a Long Island murder case. The grand jury has returned an indictment against Ward Beecher Caraway, a 23-year-old Negro veteran, for first-degree murder only. Now it will be remembered that this case, involving a wealthy Long Island family, created a great stir, and a whole wagonload of detectives were turned loose on it.

When Caraway was arrested he denied the charge of rape. But the police gave out the charge to the press and flaring headlines accused the Negro and (by implication) smeared the Negro population. Now suddenly the charge is dropped. Why?

It is rumored that Miss Logan and Caraway were previously acquainted and were friendly overseas. This obviously throws a different light on the whole case.

But now the police step in. They deplore the idea that any Negro organizations should intervene in the case. This, they say, would only focus attention on the race angle. They, on the other hand, claim to be treating Caraway as an individual. It is the technique of the FBI and the state police in Athens, Ala., transferred to Long Island. Tell Burnham “to get to hell out.”

This is NOT only a question of Negroes. These are the symptoms of a social order diseased, a population restless and dissatisfied and a government which does not bestir itself when social tensions work themselves out at the expense of a persecuted minority. The labor movement must act.

If this violence continues unchecked and the apathy and connivance of the government continues, then a pattern is being set and a foundation laid for violence against organized labor itself.

We have repeatedly seen this in countries abroad. And the U.S. is no exception to the law that the only consistent guardians and defenders of democracy today are the organized labor movements.

Last updated on 8 July 2019