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Ria Stone

Roosevelt and Other Officials Gave Waller Delegation the Run-Around

Randolph Reports: “President and Government
Have Failed Us”

(July 1942)

From Labor Action, Vol. 6 No. 29, 20 July 1942, p. 3.
Transcribed & marked up by Einde O’ Callaghan for the Encyclopaedia of Trotskyism On-Line (ETOL).

The New York division of the March on Washington Committee, at its meeting on July 8, made plans for a silent parade on Saturday, July 25, to protest the legal lynching of Odell Waller.

Twenty-five years ago, just a few months after America entered the First Imperialist World War, Negroes held such a silent parade in New York to protest the inhuman brutality directed against them in the East St. Louis pogrom when Negroes were killed in cold blood.

Today, during the Second Imperialist World War, the electrocution of a sharecropper has aroused in the Negro people an equally passionate desire to make a mass protest against a social order which denies to 13,000,000 people freedom from want and fear.

Get Royal Runaround

Waller was slated to die in the electric chair early Thursday morning July 1. On June 30, a delegation of prominent Negro, leaders, among them A. Philip Randolph, national director of the MOWC, went to Washington to request a reprieve, to ask President Roosevelt to issue a public appeal to Governor Darden of Virginia and set up a commission of inquiry. The runaround which these Negro leaders got was bald and bold in its insulting disregard of the fact that they represented the demands of millions of Negroes.

The behavior of Harold Young, the Texan executive secretary to Vice-President Wallace, is typical. While the delegation of Negro men and women sat in his office and made eloquent pleas for commutation of Waller’s sentence, Young sat with his feet on his desk and patronizingly waved a cane at them. Vice-President Wallace himself – who has been so highly praised by the Negro and white “liberal” press alike for his recent rhetorical speeches in behalf of the little people – cavalierly shoved the delegation aside when they ran after him on the steps of his office building. Brusquely he told them that he had no power in the matter.

Elmer Davis, director of the Office of War Information, summoned the delegation to his office only to warn them that “national unity” would be endangered if they carried out their proposal to picket the White House in a last-minute desperate effort.

Eleanor Roosevelt, tears in her voice, confessed she didn’t even know Waller was going to be electrocuted the next day. Having been informed, she went to the President three times and pleaded with him, finally giving up because she was afraid the President might become “annoyed” with her.

Roosevelt; himself, would not employ his powers as wartime President to intervene, accepting instead the decision of the notoriously reactionary Department of Justice officials that he had no power to act. Roosevelt, when asked, also refused to make public a letter which he had sent to the Governor of Virginia previously – on the grounds that the letter was a personal and not a public or official matter.

“National Unity” Plea Used

The last-minute action of the Negro leaders demonstrates their blind faith that those in the Administration who mouth beautiful phrases about democracy can or will back up their words with action. These Negro leaders rely for humanitarian reforms upon the so-called “new capitalists,” differentiating them from the “reactionary capitalists” who are recognizably and outspokenly anti-Negro and anti-labor. These leaders do not see that ALL CAPITALISTS must keep all workers, and the Negroes especially, in their place, if the ruling class is going to continue to live off the profits of the workers’ toil.

”National unity” is the catchword used today to discourage militant struggle by the oppressed. To get this “national unity” the ruling, class, by and large, does not make concessions but demands concessions!

In the name of “national unity,” the ruling class demands that the workers give up their right to strike. It demands that the colonials postpone their fight for national independence. It demands that Negroes should not march on Washington for their democratic rights. And it demanded on June 30 that Negroes should not picket the White House – because such an act might expose the contrast between Roosevelt’s fine abstract phrases about democracy and his actual refusal to act in the Waller case – a concrete case of a Negro sharecropper denied his democratic rights through the poll-tax system. Only when the workers, white and colored alike, have adamantly insisted and shown by militant actions that their own struggle comes first has the ruling class “appeased” the workers by granting some concessions to maintain “national unity.”

Answer False Call

Randolph’s own admission (in the Waller case) is that “the President and the government have failed us,” and (in general) that American democracy is a “miserable failure.” Nevertheless, the March on Washington. Committee, in a petition recently issued, still demands democratic rights for Negroes “in the interests of national unity and of effective defense,” and “of the victory of the United Nations over the Axis powers.” By motivating their petition in this way, the Negro leaders, like the Stalinists in this instance, obscure the fact that the demand of the Negroes are for rights which they need even for a modest degree of freedom from want and fear at all times.

The Negroes legitimately utilize the exigencies of the “national emergency” to obtain all possible concessions from their Jim Crow oppressors. But they cannot afford to subordinate their demands for simple justice and democratic rights to the needs of the war machine. For, if the Negroes in any way subordinate their own struggle at home to the imperialist struggle or to “national unity,” they will find this “national unity” boomeranging to enable the ruling class to exact rather than to give concessions.


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