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Albert Parker

The Negro Struggle

“Labor with a White Skin Cannot Emancipate Itself Where Labor with a Black Skin Is Branded.” – Karl Marx.

(12 October 1940)


From Socialist Appeal, Vol. 4 No. 41, 12 October 1940, p. 3.
Transcribed & marked up by Einde O’ Callaghan for the Encyclopaedia of Trotskyism On-Line (ETOL).

Jim Crow in the Galley

In this week’s issue of the Pittsburgh Courier there is a letter from 15 colored men now serving on the U.S.S. Philadelphia, stationed at Pearl Harbor, in which they bitterly condemn the Jim Crow system in the Navy, and sound a warning to all Negro youth considering entering this branch of the service.

Consider how they must have been driven and aroused, before they would write and sign a letter of this kind – when they are still in the Navy, and still under control of the southern officer caste who run the ship!

They write:

“On enlisting, we are given the same mental and physical examination as the white sailors and given to believe that we have the privilege of choosing any branch of the service the Navy offers. This is not true.

“With three months of training in making beds, shining shoes and serving officers completed, we are sent to various ships and stations of the Navy.

“The white sailor, after completing his training period, is not only eligible for the branch of service he has chosen, but he is automatically advanced in rating and his pay is increased to $36 a month without even having to take an examination.

“In our case, we have to be in the service a full year at $21 a month before we are eligible for advancement rating. It is also necessary for us to take a competitive examination. Even if we pass, it doesn’t mean necessarily that we will be rated and have our pay increased to $36 a month.

“On this ship, out of a crew of 750, there are 18 colored boys. ranging in ages from 18 to 25. They are fresh out of high school and some have a year or two of college education.

“Their work is limited to waiting on table and making beds for the officers.

“In the last nine months there have been nine mess attendants given solitary confinement on bread and water.

“Five of the nine were given brig time because of fighting and arguments with other enlisted men. From this you will probably think we are a pretty bad bunch. We are not.

“With the treading on and kicking around we receive here (without being able to do anything about it), every last one of us becomes bitter enough to fight a member of our own family.

“We, the mess attendants of the Philadelphia, are not merely stating these facts because of our own plight. In doing so, we sincerely hope to discourage any other colored boys from joining the Navy and make the same mistake we did.

“All they would became is sea-going bell hops, chambermaids and dishwashers.

“We take it upon ourselves to write this letter, regardless of any action the Naval authorities may take or whatever the consequences may be.

“We only know that it could not possibly surpass the mental cruelty inflicted upon us on this ship.”

And the letter ends with their signatures.

The same bitter story is told in an anonymous article in the July issue of The Crisis, monthly magazine of the N.A.A.C.P., written by a colored man on a warship whose home station is Long Beach, California.

U.S. Government’s Color Line

It points out that contrary to popular belief:

“Negroes cannot become petty officers or chief petty officers. The highest rank that can be obtained is officers’ cook or steward, and even though a steward, one is still looked upon as a mess attendant.”

“After all, he is a mess attendant. Just a mess attendant. Or shall we say ‘officer’s boy’. His duties consist of serving officers’ meals, cleaning officers’ rooms, shining their shoes, checking their laundry, running errands for them, caring for their uniforms, etc.”

“The white officer is usually the type to persecute. He can and does make your career difficult for you, because he knows that you cannot defend yourself.

“Our Negro sailors should he warned never to show a spark of intelligence if they want to spend four years in the navy. Everyone does his best to keep a smart Negro ‘in his place’. If one doesn’t mind being insulted by his superiors, if he is the kind that wants to be the rag under the white man’s feet, if he is willing to stand by while others make ratings, then he is the type the navy wants. He is the type that will make a success as a messman.

“Most Negroes find that four years in the navy is much too much for them. Proof of this fact is evident in the fact that only 1% re-enlist for another four years. This shows conclusively the attitude of the modern Negro toward white supremacy and bigotry.”

“I would like to offer one suggestion, as this situation deeply concerns every Negro in America. Let’s not sit and talk, and wait for sympathy. The Navy department, and the government, can and will give you your equal rights when, and only when, you have fought and successfully demanded them.”

Fight against Jim Crow in the armed forces by demanding workers’ control of military training and service!

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