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Labor Action, 26 September 1949


Kate Leonard

Urban League Convention Continues
Tepid Resistance Against Jim Crow


From Labor Action, Vol. 13 No. 39, 26 September 1949, p. 2.
Transcribed & marked up by Einde O’Callaghan for ETOL.


The National Urban League, a social service agency for work among Negroes, held its annual conference in Denver from September 4 to 9. The action taken at this conference reflects the changing role of the League, a role which has developed within the limitations imposed upon the organization by its leadership. Its financial backing preponderantly comes from large corporations and its policy is determined by a board of directors which includes businessmen interested in the improvement of living conditions for Negroes for philanthropic reasons or because they are convinced that it is to the interest of industry to liberalize employment policies as they affect Negroes.

Traditionally the function of the Urban League has been to improve employment opportunities for Negroes, to work for better housing and recreational facilities. It did not enter the protest or the defense field which was left to the NAACP. In recent years the Urban League has broadened its field somewhat and changed some of its practices, especially in the matter of attempting to secure jobs for Negroes.

Founded in 1910, this organization was originally called the National League on Urban Conditions Among Negroes. It first showed significant growth following the great World War I migration of Southern Negroes to Northern cities. While never completely uniform, its policies in the earlier days stemmed from the fact that large industrial concerns regarded it as a useful agency for procuring labor and as a conservative, stabilizing force in the colored community. It is well known that at this period of its history it was hostile to organized labor (not only to unions which practiced Jim Crow). It served as a strike-breaking agency.

Change in Policy

With the change in the Negro’s relation to industry this policy could not be maintained and the League shifted to a more conciliatory policy toward organized labor. At this period it appealed to trade union officials to let down the racial barriers in much the same way that it solicited the big industrialists to provide jobs for Negroes.

In more recent years it has cooperated more actively with organized labor. Today by and large it maintains a pro-union attitude when operating in any organized field, has established projects to do educational work in connection with unions and has assisted in organizing to a limited degree.

This reorientation has been caused by the greater integration of Negroes in the union movement, and by the more complete organization of the unskilled worker, especially after the coming of the CIO. It is to be noted that the 1948 convention of the Urban League only by a narrow margin condemned the Taft-Hartley law.

Officials had advised a course of watching and waiting. It was argued that “the next Congress might bring a better law or a worse one, and that if the Negro has survived all his disappointments in legislation down to the present day, he might be favorably disappointed in this one.” It was pointed out that the closed shop which has barred Negroes in several trades and industries, might be opened by the workings of the Taft-Hartley law. This viewpoint of the officialdom fortunately did not avail, probably because labor’'s attitude on the Taft-Hartley law was well known and because the law has helped eliminate Southern unions with a liberal racial policy.

Set Up Union Council

At the recent convention plans for setting up a trade union advisory council to work in cooperation with the National Urban League officials were announced. This is a forward step.

Announced also at the convention was an elaborate plan made by agreement between the United States Employment Service and the National Urban League to expand job opportunities. This boils down to a program of educating companies who hire through the USES on the advantages of hiring Negroes. At this time the USES does not have administrative control over its local state offices but their representative at the conference stated that the local units follow federal policy on major matters. Lester Granger, executive secretary of the League, summed up the plan as follows: “The USES men have the entrée and we have the arguments.”

One of the significant things reported is the expansion of the League in Southern states. Six new league offices have been set up in the South in the last five years. Nelson C. Jackson, director of the Southern field division, explained that so far the League has had to concentrate on health, housing and welfare services there, but it plans to give more attention to industrial relations, which fits in with increased industrialization. He was of the opinion that the League’s recent experience in the South is a symptom of a new psychological atmosphere in the South. There seems to be a widespread sentiment. “If we don’t do it ourselves, we’re going to be forced to, so let’s get our house in order.”

The Atlanta League cooperated in the amassing of the data to be used in the court fight to force the Atlanta Board of Education to equalize educational facilities for Negro schools.

Stand on Peekskill

In its closing session the convention passed a mealy-mouthed resolution dealing with the recent Peekskill affair. That this resolution was introduced is in character with the philosophy of the leaders of the League, but that 250 delegates passed it unanimously is cause for sober thought and regret.

This resolution has not been printed in full but enough is there to see that it is straight “Sambo.”

It says:

“We condemn those elements in our society which are seeking to foment disunity and discord among our people and specifically those totalitarian forces of whatever persuasion which are exploiting the issue of race for their own selfish ends.”

There is no objection to calling Paul Robeson what he is, the representative of a totalitarian force exploiting the issue of race for its own selfish ends, but this does not end the matter. There is apparently not a word about why and how Robeson was given this opportunity to exploit the Peekskill scandal.

The resolution goes on to pledge the League to continue fighting for the “legitimate aspirations of the Negro people in the United States.” Indeed. We would be interested to hear what the League regards the “illegitimate” aspirations of the Negro people in the United States.

The 250 delegates who voted for this disgraceful resolution had better wake up and quickly learn that unless they react to injustice, no matter against whom it is perpetrated, they have no chance to prove that “our democracy is not a static or retrogressive thing but a living, vital force to be made stronger by its extension to every one of its citizens.”

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