Main LA Index | Main Newspaper Index

Encyclopedia of Trotskyism | Marxists’ Internet Archive

Labor Action, 16 December 1946


C.T. Hollocher

Senator Bilbo:
Portrait of a Dixie Demagogue


From Labor Action, Vol. 10 No. 50, 16 December 1946, p. 5.
Transcribed & marked up by Einde O’Callaghan for ETOL.


TWO weeks ago, the Senate Campaign Investigating Committee went to the state of Mississippi to investigate charges that Senator Theodore Bilbo had incited the white population to violence against Negroes attempting to vote. The investigation came on the heels of a demand that Bilbo be barred from the Senate on the ground that his election, won by a bare majority of 3,800 votes, was illegal, since it deprived qualified voters from voting.

The Senate committee really visited two Mississippis – the Mississippi of the brave Negroes who endangered their lives by testifying; and the Mississippi of Bilbo and the white officials of the state who conspired to deprive the Negroes of their vote. The first group, impoverished and exploited by its overseers, lives in terror and fear; the other group rules the state, lives off its revenues, and represents the interests of its industrialists, financiers and plantation owners.

This latter group does not differ substantially from the political machines which rule other Southern states, except perhaps that it is poorer, more corrupt and more stupid. But its poverty, corruption and stupidity are the products of two things: the extreme poverty of the state and the existence of a Negro majority which creates a deep fear in an insecure ruling group.

Tradition-Bound Racism

The political gang which rules the state, and the ruling class elements which foster it, are tradition-bound. Decades of indoctrination with racist theories which had their origin in slavery continue to dominate the minds of the majority of the white population. No force in the South has been able to combat it. What is worse, the weight of the racist Democratic Party in Washington has been so great as to help perpetuate the system. The hypocrisies of the North are held up in the South as justification for their own racism. When the capital city of the nation is a Jim Crow town, how can one attack the South? At least, so the bigoted and reactionary Southerner thinks.

The Senate investigation of Bilbo in Mississippi could not be anything but a farce. Think of it: the chairman of the committee is Jim Crow Senator Ellender of Louisiana. On the committee of, five, there is Senator Maybank of South Carolina and Thomas of Oklahoma, also “magnolia-minded.” The two Republicans on the committee, Bridges and Hickenlooper, did nothing to recommend themselves as persons capable of an honest investigation of a corrupt and venal colleague.

Chairman Ellender, as PM pointed out, was “storming at his committee’s own witnesses, sometimes at his own counsel, in general working harder for Bilbo than all of Bilbo’s own large staff of attorneys. He was simply telling his own people back home to forget this, he was no ‘n......r lover,’ and wouldn’t they please remember that he hadn’t wanted to come down to Jackson in the first place.”

The committee went into the state to examine election officials. on procedures they used to prevent Negroes from voting and to establish a connection between their efforts and the campaign speeches of Bilbo. But the not-too-willing committee, according to the New York Times, found “a solid front of white municipal officials resisted efforts ... to connect specific violations of Negroes’ civil rights with Senator Theodore G. Bilbo’s campaign speeches last spring.”

Courage of the Negroes

Much to the surprise of the Senate committee and the Bilbo machine, the Negroes did turn out to testify. Prior to the hearing, the belief was widespread that the terror of Bilbo’s machine had done its job too well. But when the hearings opened more than 200 Negroes were present! This in itself is a tremendous fact, for these Negroes were doing a brave thing to speak out. All of them knew that they may expect reprisals, but they came anyway.

But one would be\naive indeed to think that the Senate will disqualify Bilbo because he violated the constitutional rights of the Negro voters. He may be barred for taking bribes from war contracting companies; but it is not likely that his conduct of the elections will give courage to his senatorial colleagues to keep his seat from him. It is not only a question of “senatorial courtesy,” of “a $15,000 a year job” of which senators are loathe to deprive a colleague. It is the fear that any action they might take would have an explosive effect on the South. For what has happened in Mississippi is largely true of the South as a whole.

There is Case No. 1, of Clifford R. Fields, Circuit Court registrar of Natchez County. The following is a portion of his testimony:

FIELDS: We want the white primary – and anything to make it a little harder for the colored man to vote ... When they first started coming in they came without having two poll tax receipts. It just meant cluttering up the books with a lot of names of people who would not be eligible to vote.

CHAIRMAN ELLENDER: Did you apply the same restrictions to white people?

FIELDS: No, because I knew white people would eventually become< qualified.

QUESTION: What other restrictions did you place on colored people trying to register in contrast to whites, other than producing poll tax receipts?

ANSWER: The only other thing I did was to ask them to read sections of the constitution of the state of Mississippi where it explains the reelection of the Governor of Mississippi. I did not require it of whites, but did of colored.

QUESTION: You made it harder for colored people than whites, true?


This method of disqualifying Negro voters by asking a lot of obscure questions is not a new one. As if there were any doubt about it, Bilbo himself declared:

“The circuit clerks are under oath ... and if there is a single man or woman serving in this important office who cannot think up questions enough disqualifying undesirables, then write Bilbo or any good lawyer and there are a few hundred good questions which can be furnished.”

How Drunk to Get Arrested?

Case No. 2 relates to Richard E. Daniel, Negro veteran, prevented from voting by being arrested and beaten up in jail by Robert L. Williams, 6-foot 8-inch Gulfport policeman. Daniel’s bloodstained clothes were exhibited to the committee. They showed that he was badly beaten while in jail. But the giant thug in policeman’s garb denied this, saying “he had only slapped him two or three times with his open hand.” The cop stated that Daniel was drunk and cursing in front of some women. When the cop was asked how drunk Daniel was, he answered:

“Well, he wasn’t dog drunk; he was just drunk enough to be arrested.”

Victor Bernstein, PM reporter, who was in the corridors after Williams’ testimony, saw him together with Forrest Jackson, Bilbo’s chief counsel, and heard him ask:

“‘How’d I do, Mr. Jackson?’ And Jackson slapped the policeman on the back and answered: ‘Fine, Williams. You did just fine.’”

Case No. 3 describes one device employed by the slicker politicians of the state. Getting the consent of Negroes not to vote in order to prevent. violence against them. This took place in Greenwood, where Mayor Allan Saffold claimed the “best in the Delta.”

“Fine bunch of darkies,” added Shelby Steele, insurance man. “No place in Mississippi and whites get along better.”

The leading whites in the town, including the mayor and the above Steele, called in two leading members of the Negro community and asked them to see to it that the Negroes do not vote. The two Negroes apparently did a good job because not a single Negro voted in Greenwood.

Bilbo’s Own Testimony

The low point of the hearings was reached when Bilbo himself testified. In the tradition of Dixie’s senators, Bilbo declared: “I’m the best friend the got in the U.S. Senate.” Translated into plain English, this means: by keeping the Negro segregated, employing discrimination against him, barring him from voting and making Jim Crow the law of the South, we have saved him from the violence which WE advocate.

The gist of Bilbo’s testimony was that he did not urge “violence” to keep the Negro from the polls. Conceding that he urged the white population to “see the the night before election,” he only meant that they should use “persuasion” to keep them from voting. When he urged that CIO organizers should be “rode out of town on a rail – and tar and feathered, too,” that did not mean to use violence!

Guided by his friend and fellowthinker, the impartial chairman of the Senate Investigating Committee, Senator Ellender, Bilbo was broughtaround to state his “philosophy.” He considered white people “better than” To make it clearer he added: “I believe in the superiority of the white race over the black race. I think we’re better than they are.”

It seems superfluous to add anything to this testimony. Here is the self-portrait of bigotry and race hatred; the self-portrait of ignorance and fascist-like mentality. It is the portrait of a leading section of one of the two dominant capitalist parties in this country, as well as of a dominant way of thinking which its political leaders spread both in the South and the North.

The enemy of labor, of the Negro people, of all who despise discrimination and race doctrines has told us what he believes. Now it is time to answer with what we stand for: complete racial and religious equality; the organization of the South by the trade unions to achieve white and Negro labor solidarity and the socialist struggle to abolish the roots of discrimination. Let the two alternatives stand for all to see and act upon.

Top of page

Main LA Index | Main Newspaper Index

Encyclopedia of Trotskyism | Marxists’ Internet Archive

Last updated on 21 July 2020