Main NI Index | Main Newspaper Index

Encyclopedia of Trotskyism | Marxists’ Internet Archive

The Militant, 19 January 1948

Press Blackout on Gestapo Rule
in Mississippi

From The Militant, Vol. XII No. 3, 19 January 1948, pp. 1 & 3.
Transcribed & marked up by Einde O’Callaghan for ETOL.


Unbeknown to the rest of the country, the state of Mississippi, with a population of 2½ million, has been ruled for the past two months under a fascist-like secret police system and brutal anti-labor laws which include the death penalty.

So sensational are the facts that it seems incredible the country has been kept in the dark so long about them. Yet the very existence of these savage laws and gestapo system within United States borders has been concealed from the country at large by a conspiracy of silence scarcely paralleled even in the notorious history of the American Big Business press.

Prior to a shocking exposure in the Jan. 3 issue of the weekly New Yorker, only two newspapers outside of Mississippi even mentioned the series of sinister laws passed last November 14 by the Mississippi legislature in a special session called by Governor Fielding L. Wright.

The target of these laws is the union movement in Mississippi., The laws are the outgrowth of attempts by the state government to smash a six-month strike of bus drivers against the Southern (Trailway Bus) lines. The strike was led by the AFL Amalgamated Association of Street Car, Railway and Motor Coach Employees.

One of these laws gives Governor Wright the power to establish his own armed secret police force, called the Mississippi Bureau of Investigations, whose members are appointed by and known only to him. These secret agents under Wright’s exclusive control are authorized “to investigate and make arrests in crimes of violence and intimidation.” They can make searches, seizures and arrests on mere; “suspicion” and without a warrant.

Another law empowers a judge to sentence to death anyone convicted of placing a bomb in a “building, ship, vessel, boat, railroad station, train, bus station or depot, bus, truck or other vehicle, gas and oil stations and pipe lines, radio station or radio equipment or other public utilities” – even if no one is killed or injured.

This is the first law in any state to make damage to property punishable by a death sentence. Under this law and the others enacted In Mississippi it would be mere child’s play for the Governor’s secret police and the corrupt state courts to frame up and railroad strikers to their, deaths.

Another law provides a five-year prison sentence for throwing a stone at a bus of for mere possession of “dynamite caps, fuses, detonators, dynamite, nitro-glycerine, explosive gas, or stink bombs” unless in the conduct of a “lawful business.” (Our emphasis).

Frame-Up System

What scope can be added to a frame-up system where the law makes mere possession of an explosive or “stink bomb” evidence of criminal intent! Think what a secret police force could do to plant “evidence” on a union organizer, “discover” the same in his house or car, arrest him without warrant and send him up for five years for “unlawful possession” of a – “stink bomb.”

Another law makes it a penal offense for “two or more” persons to conspire to “intimidate” an employe of a bus company. If two workers even discuss ways and means of persuading workers not to scab on a bus strike, they can be railroaded to prison. Of course, the Governor’s secret police will supply all the “evidence” – and maybe even some hard- won “confessions” by the time they get through a secret session with workers spirited away without a warrant.

Sound like some things you’ve read about Nazi Germany? Well, that’s what we have right here in the United States down in Mississippi. Indeed, even in the rabidly anti-labor, “white supremacist,” poll-tax Mississippi legislature, a few bold spirits dared to call these laws by their right name. State Senator Luther A. Whittington, of Natchez, asked: “Isn’t this the same kind of law which dictators of Europe started and then began terrorizing the people with a secret police or gestapo?”

Press Is Silent

The fact that such Hitler-like laws could be passed anywhere In the United States is startling enough. But what is equally startling- – and ominous – is that virtually the entire American press didn’t print a line about them and hasn’t to this day.

Only by pure chance have the facts been given national publicity even at this late date. They were uncovered accidentally by A.J. Liebling, an outstanding war correspondent and a leading American journalist. He succeeded in getting them published in the New Yorker, which has a limited public.

In going through a pile of papers from various parts of the country he came across the Nov. 14 issue of the New Orleans Times-Picayune – the only newspaper outside of Mississippi to report in detail the action of the Mississippi legislature. Its headline caught his eye. When he read that these unprecedented laws had been passed as “the outgrowth of recurrent violence” in the bus strike, “I wondered why I had not read about this Mississippi rebellion before.”

“It seemed to me that this kind of legislation deserved prominent space in newspapers throughout the country, if only because of the sanguinary anarchy that must have reigned in Mississippi for months to justify anything like it,” writes Liebling. All that had happened, so far as he could discover, was one brick thrown into the waiting room of a bus station and a bullet allegedly fired at a bus. Perpetrators unknown; nobody hurt.

Doubting the accuracy of the Times-Picayune reports, because he could not believe such a sensational story could go unnoticed by other large newspapers, Liebling checked scores of dailies. Finally he found a small item on page 21 of the Nov. 16 N.Y. Times (“All the news that’s fit to print”). The headline read: Bill to Curb Labor Fails in Mississippi. (Our emphasis)

This was the lying headline on a story which told that six out of seven proposed anti-labor laws had been adopted. “There was no mention in it of the death penalty, Which I would have thought newsworthy,” says Liebling, with the understatement of the week.

Neither the Associated Press nor United Press – whose wires are flooded daily with hundreds of thousands of words of tripe – could dig him up a copy of any dispatch on the Mississippi event, if any were sent out at all. He finally wired the Times-Picayune reporter for more information. Liebling got not only a direct confirmation of the facts – but copies of the bills passed by the Mississippi legislature.

He learned also that the organization of the Mississippi Bureau of Investigation began the day after the law was passed under “an ex-Army colonel who had been executive officer of the Mississippi National Guard.”

He learned further that three CIO locals in Hattiesburg, Miss., had published a full-page advertisement “stating that they would pay legal expenses of the first ‘innocent’ person arrested by the Bureau of Investigation, all the way up to the Supreme Court.”

The American labor movement must smash through the “iron curtain” around Mississippi. That plague spot of developing fascism must be exposed, quarantined and disinfected before its deadly virus spreads.

Top of page

Main Militant Index | Main Newspaper Index

Encyclopedia of Trotskyism | Marxists’ Internet Archive

Last updated on 8 October 2020