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Labor Action, 1 August 1949


Kate Leonard

NAACP Convention Plans Civil-Rights Struggles


From Labor Action, Vol. 13 No. 31, 1 August 1949, pp. 1 & 2.
Transcribed & marked up by Einde O’Callaghan for ETOL.


The 40th annual convention of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People was held in Los Angeles from July 12 through July 17. Eight hundred delegates from 38 states represented a membership of 500,000, a third of this membership in the South. This was a loss of around 80,000 for this year, and a failure by one-half to reach the figure of 1,000,000 campaigned for in 1947–48.

This failure was openly discussed by board members as “a crisis in association affairs,” attributed to a depression among Negroes everywhere. It can also be attributed to the fact, recognized by the NAACP in Its report on civil rights in 1948 issued jointly with the American Jewish Congress, that this convention met in the shadow of “a year of great promise but scant fulfillment.”

If keynoter there was, he was William H. Hastie, governor of the Virgin Islands and personal advisor to Walter White, national secretary of the association, now on leave. George Streator, reporting the convention for the precise New York Times, commented that Governor Hastie’s presence was interpreted as a move to give comfort to association members who contend that many state laws and customs must be changed to bring improved status to Negroes in Southern and border states. He was the highest ranking government official present.

Governor Hastie said that public officials who did not fight discrimination were a greater menace to national security than the radical groups now being tried for disloyalty. He was thus following the NAACP policy of using persuasion and putting pressure where it will tell.

Top Man Changes

There was speculation on the resignation of Walter White. This is nothing new, although it had been more and more persistently rumored as the convention approached. Roy Wilkins, the acting secretary, represents the same policy and forces as does White.

Communist Party elements have used appearance of Wilkins, a weaker man than White, to attempt a move ahead. Concern about Communist Party influence was apparently inflated at the convention. For instance, there was even talk of electing Wilkins permanent secretary to prevent a “coup” by the party-line supporters.

On the last day of the convention the Stalinists, who had been demanding the reinstatement of Dr. W.B. DuBois as a functionary and his election to the board of directors, withdrew this demand, substituting for it a motion that the association celebrate the birthdays of the six surviving founders, including Dr. DuBois! That Hastie and other association leaders spoke against witch hunts was all to the good, and showed that they are more farsighted than some of Wilkins’ nervous partisans.

It is to be noted that with this con- [text missing here] This is still not a democratic election to the national board of at least four of the seven directors, from candidates agreed to by the convention. This is still not a democratic election – the board has been self-perpetuating up to now – but it is a concession to a widespread feeling that the national office “tried to hog the whole show.”

This criticism is in part mistaken: of necessity the national organization has had to move in on local issues within the scope of the NAACP’s program, as these quickly become nationwide in importance and require centralized handling in many instances. The criticism is, however, mainly directed against the long-standing lack of democracy in the internal affairs of the organization, and it also is a repercussion of the lack of a vital branch life for too many branches.

As was widely anticipated, Dr. Ralph J. Bunche, Acting United Nations Mediator on Palestine, who earlier this year refused a Washington appointment, was awarded the Spingarn medal.

Plan Legal Fight

Reports from various sections of the country occupied a large part of the second and third day of the convention. To be commended – not only from the point of view of providing local activity, but also because with the present impasse in Congress, this is one way in which Negroes can move at this time – are proposals for continued activity in the legal field.

Virginia, for example, is planning to push 96 cases already filed to extend the Supreme Court decision declaring segregation in interstate bus travel to be unconstitutional. The cases will involve train and air travel.

While traditionally test cases are brought where there is a law, in the matter of civil rights for Negroes it has been necessary to bring test cases to establish a law. That this is an asset in the long pull to establish civil rights was demonstrated, if demonstration was required, by the now well-known fact that the real impetus to Negro voting in the South came with the invalidation of the white primary in 1944. The right to travel unsegregated, or the right to vote, will be established in practice. And at the same time it is a venerable axiom that room to stand is useful when wielding a lever.

Speakers urged a nationwide drive for state anti-bias laws, fair-employment practice laws first of all. The policies of the armed forces were analyzed. One of the current enigmas is the relative advancement of the navy over the army on its integration program. While the convention was in session, the army, only branch of the services which has not advanced a “racial equality” program, again announced that it was not in the social-reform business. The Fahy Committee is to have this finally explained to it on August 1.

The convention’s call for a special session of this Congress for passage of civil-rights legislation can be considered good propaganda of the exposure variety, but it unfortunately is little likely to be realized as congressional action before the end of this session.

The NAACP also proposes a Negro and labor conference in Washington as the culmination of a Civil Rights Month. The precondition attached to this excellent recommendation – that this conference be held at the same time as the proposed special session of Congress – can, however, become somebody’s “out.” Such a convergence upon Washington would require careful preparation and leadership; one still remembers that a previous March on Washington plan in circumstances that augured well was sidetracked, with the NAACP leaders prominent among the sidetrackers.

The problems besetting Operation Dixie came in for attention. Clarence A. Mitchell, the labor secretary again criticized the NLRB. Earlier this year, testifying before the Senate Labor Committee against the Taft-Hartley law, he had charged: “Frequently in organizing drives of the AFL and the CIO in the South, the racial issue has been used to eliminate a liberal union,” and he asserted that the Taft-Hartley Law had created an atmosphere of strife which has resulted in serious attacks upon such unions as the United Packinghouse Workers, the Cafeteria Workers in Washington, and the United Steel Workers.

The NLRB, he said, had begun to approve separate unions for Negro workers back in Wagner Act days, and now it does so in every instance. He accused Ford, DuPont and General Motors in Atlanta, Richmond, Charlotte, N.C., and Houston of refusing to upgrade skilled Negro workers.

More Political Action

The NAACP, which has historically followed the policy of militant propaganda coupled with resort to the courts, has increasingly found it necessary to enter the political arena. Roy Wilkins announced the continuation of its practice in more recent years of working for the defeat of all public officials hostile to civil rights. (This was first seriously tried in the protest against the proposed appointment of Judge John J. Parker to the Supreme Court in 1928 and upon that occasion was successful.)

In calling for the defeat of all senators and representatives who opposed civil-rights legislation Wilkins named names, including the leadership of both parties in Congress. Of course, this program is to be affected on a local scale as well.

This corresponds pretty exactly to the stage at which labor finds itself also. George L.P. Weaver of, the CIO, speaking at the Race Relations Institute at Fisk University on June 28, outlined the key move in labor’s program, to “retire” anti-labor legislators. There is irony in the fact that anyone would call upon Philip Murray to use his influence to put the NAACP in a position to make its political influence felt, as did John Thorton, director of the Mahoning County, Ohio CIO-PAC. Murray, a member of the NAACP’s board of directors, does not seem able to suggest anything better than the program outlined.

The political-action discussion at the convention looked to November 7, 1950, when we elect the 82nd Congress, under the impress of the fact that Taft-Hartley is still law, and that no major federal civil-rights bill has been enacted. The association’s 40th convention met under little more auspicious circumstances than did the 39th, which also “rewarded its friends and punished its enemies.” The NAACP and Negroes generally supported the Democratic Party in 1948, in a demonstration of bloc voting decisive enough to satisfy any politician. They saw nowhere else to go. The situation was complicated by the fact that the presidential election was used in the South to gain a beachhead for the right to vote. The Republicans could not even bid for the Negroes’ vote. And to most Negroes, the idea of a protest vote looked like a luxury.

At Labor’s Level

However, the “blame” belongs not to them but to labor’s leaders. Reward your friends and punish your enemies – 1948 style or 1949 style – has brought little effective result, but a leadership of labor in the political sense is sadly lacking, and there is not yet a labor party.

In this context labor does not advance and class differentiation on the political front among the Negro population cannot proceed. One thing this means is that labor elements in the NAACP cannot forge to the fore. The work of the association will continue to have a limited effectiveness as long as this is true.

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