G.F. Eckstein

Resist Jim-Crow Draft, Randolph Urges

(12 April 1948)

Source: The Militant, Vol. 12 No. 15, 12 April 1948, pp. 1 & 4.
Source: PDF supplied by the Riazanov Library Project.
Transcription/Mark-up: Einde O’Callaghan for the Marxists’ Internet Archive.

The threat of non-compliance with the draft was hurled in the face of American capitalism at a hearing of the Senate Armed Services Committee on Truman’s Universal Military Training and draft proposals. A. Philip Randolph, president of the AFL Brotherhood of Sleeping Car Porters, declared:

“Today I should like to make clear to this committee and through you to Congress and the American people, that passage now of a Jim Crow draft may only result in a mass civil disobedience movement along the lines of the magnificent struggles of the people of India against British imperialism.”

According to the N.Y. Times, committee members “indicated anxiety” at this stage, as well they might. The seething dissatisfaction of the Negro people with Jim Crow, as practiced by the federal government itself, had here found clear and dangerous expression.

A. Philip Randolph is one of the best known Negro leaders. After World War I he was a prominent socialist. He turned to the organization of the Sleeping Car Porters and successfully accomplished a job of union building which gave him a national reputation. He came into national prominence again in 1941 by leading the March-On-Washington movement, which assumed such mass proportions that President Roosevelt summoned Randolph to Washington and exerted unprecedented pressure to get him to call off the march. He also promised to promulgate the FEPC if Randolph gave in. Randolph yielded and was bitterly denounced by many militant Negroes and left wingers. Randolph recently has been active in advocating a third party and a permanent FEPC.

It is therefore little wonder that Randolph’s declaration startled the Senate Committee. His defiant words are certain to go down in history:

“I personally pledge myself to openly counsel, aid and abet youth, both while and Negro, to quarantine any Jim Crow conscription system, whether it bear the label of UMT or selective service ...

“From coast to coast in my travels I shall call upon Negro veterans to join in this civil disobedience movement and to recruit their younger brothers in an organized refusal to register and be drafted ...

“I shall appeal to the thousands of white youth in schools and colleges who are today vigorously shedding the prejudices of their parents and professors. I shall urge them to demonstrate their solidarity with Negro youth by ignoring the entire registration and induction machinery.

“And finally I shall appeal to Negro parents to lend their moral support to their sons – to stand behind them as they march with heads high to federal prisons as a telling demonstration to the world that Negroes have reached the limit of human endurance.”

The American capitalists recognized the revolutionary significance of the declaration and Senator Wayne Morse, Republican, replied immediately:

“It may very well lead to indictments for treason and very serious repercussions.”

This reputed liberal, at the first hint of the Negro people fighting seriously for their democratic rights, yelled “We’ll jail you.”

Randolph, obviously well prepared, stood his ground. He anticipated, he said, “country-wide” terrorism against Negroes, “but if that is the only way we can get democracy we will have to face it.”

Other Senators as well as Morse warned of treason. Randolph said that there would be no overt acts. He was urging non-resistance, non-cooperation. Morse insisted that many overt acts, in ether words, open violence, would result.

Supporting Randolph “shoulder-to-shoulder” was Grant Reynolds, national chairman of the Committee against Jim Crow in Military Service and Training, and New York State Commissioner of Correction.

The day after Randolph made his sensational statement before the Senate, Representative A. Clayton Powell, of Harlem told the Committee:

“I want to assure you that the testimony given you by Mr. Randolph did most emphatically state the mood of the vast majority of the 15 million Negroes in America. He did not overstate it.”

Randolph did not call for a struggle against imperialist war as such. He spoke for the democratic right of the Negroes. But he took a principled stand, and he called on whites to rally to the Negro cause. In its own way, it is a notable call for the revolutionary action and a defiance of imperialist reaction here in the United States.

Negro oppression and the hypocrisy of American imperialism have been highlighted. If what Randolph proposes should get mass response and firm organizational expression, then a series of vital problems will be posed for every labor organization in the country. While the Negro press and the Negro people are alive with responses to the declaration, the capitalist press is trying to pretend that nothing very important has happened. But already there are signs that great masses of Negro people will echo and re-echo the protest until it is heard throughout the nation and the world.

Last updated on 3 February 2022