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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.

(19 October 1940)


From Socialist Appeal, Vol. 4 No. 42, 19 October 1940, p. 3.
Transcribed & marked up by Einde O’ Callaghan for the Encyclopaedia of Trotskyism On-Line (ETOL).

A Victory on Paper

A couple of weeks ago, before the conscription bill was passed, two amendments were made, which were hailed by Senator Wagner of New York (and several unsuspecting and gullible Negro leaders) as “a signal victory for the forces of democracy in America life.”

One amendment was supposed to prohibit discrimination in the armed forces because of color, so far as enlisted men were concerned, the other prohibited discrimination against drafted men.

But actually, in spite of the statements coming from secretaries in the White House, nothing has changed. Jim Crow still wears his stripes.

This was definitely shown in the attempts of a number of colored people to enlist in the service since the passage of the amended bill. They wanted to enlist so that they can choose the branch of the service they preferred, something that is not permitted for drafted men.

In five cities, reporters of the Baltimore Afro-American attempted to join the U.S. Aviation Corp. In each case, these colored men were met with flat rejections. “And in each instance the reason given was always the same – no openings for colored men.”

Another reporter of the same paper tried to enlist in the field artillery, a branch of the service that has been closed to the Negro people. “There are no vacancies for colored,” was the answer he got.

Another applied for admission into the U.S. Navy this week in Washington, the capital of this great democracy. He was told that the only place open for Negroes was as mess-hands, that is, as kitchen slavies. He protested, saying, “I was of the impression that the conscription bill, either in fact or in spirit, had changed all this segregation.”

“Well,” the officer declared, “I don’t know what can be done about it. We haven’t had any further orders. The conscription bill hasn’t changed the situation for us. As far as we’re concerned, it’s just as if nothing’s happened.”

And so it goes, up and down the line of the different branches. The marine corps is still lily white. So is the tank corps, the air corps, the artillery, the coast guard, the engineers, the signal corps, etc. Only the infantry, the cavalry, the quartermaster corps, mess hands in the Navy, and to a very limited extent, the medical corps are open to colored people.

The White House Is Unmasked

After a White. House conference with Walter White, A. Philip Randolph and T. Arnold Hill, it became clear this week that only white officers will be called in to command colored draftees. Roosevelt was quoted as saying That so far as training colored men as commissioned officers or for the air corps went, plans had not yet been developed.

Colored reserve officers will be called on active duty only to fill vacancies “in units now officered by colored personnel.” Since the only units now officered by colored men are the National Guard, this means that drafted men will be placed in separate units under white officers.

“As to the Navy,” says the Afro-American, “Colonel Knox allegedly stated that while he was sympathetic, he felt that the problem there was almost insoluble since men have to live together on ships, and that ‘Southern’ and ‘Northern’ ships are impossible.”

If Jim Crow still rules in the enlisted Army, in spite of the fine “anti-discrimination” amendment, how much more will it rule in the drafted army! It becomes clear now that the only reason these amendments were passed was to get the colored people to support the conscription bill, and make them feel things were going to change so far as they were concerned.

... It is now clearer than ever: The fight to end Jim Crowism in the armed forces, the fight to see that colored soldiers have the right to pick their own officers, can be won only as part of the general struggle for trade union control of military training.

* * *

The Army doesn’t want colored men to become officers. And it has an unwritten rule that those who do become officers shall not rise higher than the rank of Colonel. And few of those!

The reason is that they don’t want colored men in the highest councils where they can see from the inside how the Negro ranks are discriminated against, how it is decided that they are to play mainly two roles: to do the dirty work in the labor battalions, and to be given the most dangerous assignments in active duty.

In 1917, when officers were being promoted, General Jim Crow and his staff decided that Colonel Charles E. Young, highest ranking Negro West Point graduate, was suddenly retired “because he had high blood pressure.” The real reason for this move was that an officer who is retired does not have to be promoted, even if he is returned to active duty.

Young rode on a horse all the way from Wilberforce, Ohio, to Washington, to show that he was physically fit – but he was not promoted as all the whites of his rank were. Later on, he was returned to active duty, but only as a colonel, because his “retirement” gave the general staff their necessary excuse not to advance him.

History repeated itself last week. President Roosevelt, who tells how he loves democracy ... in Europe, appointed 100 white colonels to the grade of brigadier-general over the head of Col. Benjamin O. Davis, commanding officer of the 369th Infantry Regiment, N.Y. These appointments were made by the Commander-in-Chief on the recommendation of the Army.

The only difference is that in 1917 they looked for an “excuse.” In 1940 they feel Jim Crow is permanent in the Army, as long as they’re in control, and they don’t even need excuses to cover it up.

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