J.R. Johnson

“Law and Order” Protects Jim Crow Violence

Labor Strength Can Put an End to Lynch Law!

(2 September 1946)

From Labor Action, Vol. 10 No. 35, 2 September 1946, p. 8.
Transcribed & marked up by Einde O’Callaghan for the Marxists’ Internet Archive.

The Negroes in the South are defending themselves. That becomes ever more clear from the reports in the Negro press. One report about the latest large-scale violence in Mississippi is particularly illuminating. It will be remembered that after an altercation on the road, four white men drove up in a car to the house where the Negroes concerned were living. They were met with gun-fire. The white men retreated and the Negroes fled. They were then hunted down by a posse of 200 men, including police and bloodhounds.

It is now reported that the Negroes were led by ex-servicemen, that they had had arms hidden away, and that the action they undertook was to delay the attackers until the women had gotten safely away. The police have the arrested men in jail but are keeping very quiet about the case. Obviously there is much more to this episode than has yet appeared.

Right of Defense

Any citizen with a spark of decent feeling will feel all his sympathy and support go out to these Negroes. Faced with the possibility of a desperate fate they took a desperate way out. If the circumstances are as they are reported, these men were perfectly justified in defending themselves in the way they saw fit.

More than ever today, with unknown terrors lurking at every step, Negroes are ready to defend themselves. It must be remembered that a lynching or an act of mob violence is not an isolated incident. It sharpens race relations for miles around. When they occur with the rapidity and brutality of recent weeks and over such widely spread areas, they breed an atmosphere of suspicion, tension and fear which take a long time to dispel.

Meanwhile Governor-Elect Talmadge excites the backward masses of the South by his incendiary remarks and proposals. Many observers trace the excitement in Mississippi to the violent election campaign of Senator Bilbo and his recent statement that he was a member of the Klan.

Labor Action is glad to see that the Negroes are resisting tyranny with the courage and yet with the discretion that their situation demands. But organized labor cannot offer them merely sympathy. The crux of the whole situation is the connivance and support of “law and order” with the lynchers and the mobs.

He repeat and we shall keep on repeating: If the federal government actively and spectacularly intervened against the lynchers in one case, it would bring a sharp change in the situation.

But all the forces of “law and order” are opposed to any serious restraint upon the mobs. They are opposed to the vigorous and drastic action necessary, for political reasons.

Northern capital has heavy investments in the South and is quite content that the barbarous social system should not be disturbed.

The local legislatures are strongholds of reaction and privilege based from top to bottom on corrupt and greedy little oligarchies. They have built up their system on racial segregation. If this is disturbed, whoever may come into power, it is certain that they will go out.

Labor Can Stop It

Furthermore, the CIO drive represents the greatest threat ever launched at the corruption and special privilege of the Southern system. Lynching and mob violence are weapons against the spread of the organized labor movement, particularly among Negroes.

The whole Truman administration rests upon the maintenance of the present Southern system. For the federal government to attack it actively means to imperil its own position. The Southern senators blackmail, the administration on the one hand for subsidies and patronage, and then combine with the Republicans to sabotage progressive legislation urged by the labor movement.

Truman, like Roosevelt, can always say that he proposed the legislation but was defeated by members of his own party. This exonerates him with labor and is perfectly satisfactory to big capital.

Thus from all sides powerful political and social forces stand aside or actively collaborate with the lynchers and mob violence. These are the social and mass methods by which the whole reactionary set-up is sustained in the South, and exercises its evil influence in Washington.

Organized labor must intervene. It must intervene in defense of the rights of Negro citizens. These rest upon, not government, but an active and vigilant labor movement. All violence against democracy is violence against the progress of labor.

But labor must intervene also in its own vital and immediate interest. It must see that if it is to the interest of big capital and its satellites to maintain the Negro in his present position, then it is to the advantage of labor to help the Negro out of it.

Safeguard Our Liberties

It is a crying shame when a mob of backward Southerners, or a brutal sheriff hounds to death some inoffensive Negroes. These men are a disgrace to civilization and should be sternly corrected.

But the ones really responsible are those In whose hands rest the power, the law, and the organs of publicity and propaganda.

The only force they respect is the power of organized labor. And both by helping the Negroes and by merciless attacks upon the misusers of public power, organized labor can safeguard its own liberties and mobilize the great mass of the people against the hoodlums in the streets and those far more dangerous ones who sit in the state legislatures, the police stations and the governmental offices in Washington.

Last updated on 8 July 2019