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Albert Parker

FDR Tries to Prevent Negro March on Capital

Administration Men Exerting All Possible Pressure to Get March Leaders
to Abandon the March Even at This Late Date

(28 June 1941)

From The Militant, Vol. V No. 26, 28 June 1941, p. 2.
Transcribed & marked up by Einde O’ Callaghan for the Encyclopaedia of Trotskyism On-Line (ETOL).

As the day of the July 1st Negro March on Washington draws closer, numerous attempts are being made to exert pressure, on the organizers of the march to call it off.

These attempts include “advice” and hardly-veiled threats from so-called friends, government officials and Negro misleaders.

The coming March on Washington has the government worried. It will be a strong and telling condemnation of the hypocritical talk about saving the world for democracy. The refusal to grant the just and simple demands of the marchers will be a real eye-opener to hundreds of thousands of Negroes as to the true character of the Roosevelt administration and the war it is preparing.

The main gun in this drive to stifle the March was fired by Roosevelt himself, in his memorandum to the OPM on Negro employment.

Roosevelt hoped that this memorandum would satisfy the leaders of the March and persuade them to call off the march.

But the leaders of the March just could not do this, when so little had actually been offered by Roosevelt.

Answers to Roosevelt

A. Philip Randolph declared:

“The statement of the President is one which was expected 10 months ago. It has no teeth in it and its not a proclamation or executive order which would give assurance of discontinuance of discrimination. Therefore the mobilization effort for the march on Washington is being redoubled.”

Walter White of the NAACP stated that “the president’s statement is about six months late. What Negroes want now is action, not words.”

Later in the week, unfortunately, both Randolph and White began to give in a little under the pressure of Washington but both still asserted that the march would go through as planned. Randolph said: “It is not only the president who must be impressed with the gravity of the Negro situation ...” White said: “The president’s memorandum, sound and democratic in principle, is too little when one considers the areas it leaves untouched, and comes too late to convince the Committee that a mass demonstration isn’t needed to dramatize race discrimination in the nation’s life.” After all, Randolph and White were also under pressure from the Negro people who want the march.

Masses for March

An example of how the masses responded to the cry that the Roosevelt memorandum was a victory was shown in the statement by one of the rank-and-file members of the Harlem March committee who said: “Even if this is a victory, that’s no reason why we can’t hold a victory demonstration in Washington!”

(On Page 5 of this issue is an analysis of the President’s memorandum.)

Eleanor Intervenes

The administration did not content itself with utilizing the services of the male half of the family. After all, while Roosevelt has kept quiet on all these questions for years, his wife has built herself quite a reputation as a “friend of the Negroes.” So she too. went into action.

First she wrote a letter to Randolph:

“I have talked over your letter with the President and I feel very strongly that your group is making a very grave mistake at the present time to allow this march to take place. I am afraid it will set back the progress which is being made, in the Army at least, towards better opportunities and less segregation.

“I feel that if any incident occurs as a result of this, it may engender so much bitterness that it will create in Congress even more solid opposition from certain groups than we have had in the past ...”

This was followed by a surprise visit by Mrs. Roosevelt to New York, where, in LaGuardia’s office she and the Little Flower at tempted to persuade Randolph and White in person.

Randolph and White were not convinced, they said afterwards, but they certainly did not help the march any when they issued Mrs. Roosevelt’s letter a little later with the brief statement that the march would produce beneficial results, but presenting her letter as the expression of “an important point of view from not only an influential person in American affairs but a strong and definite friend of the Negro. There is no question that can rise in the minds of the Negroes about the fact that she is a real and genuine friend of the race.”

By not answering point for point what she had said, and by characterizing her as a “friend of the race,” Randolph and White weaken the fight.

Eleanor’s “Friendly” Threat

Eleanor Roosevelt’s letter is not that of “a friend,” but that of an enemy disguising herself as a friend. For what is her letter but a half-threat? A half-threat that the march will “set back the progress which is being made, in the Army at least” (what progress?). What is this talk of hers about “an incident”? Who will create the incident? Not the marchers. If any “incident” occurs, it will be brought about by the administration or its underlings. All Roosevelt need do to prevent any “incidents” when the marchers arrive in Washington, is grant their demands. It is significant that when Mrs. Roosevelt spoke to her husband, she evidently did not try to persuade him that he should do this, and thus avoid “incidents.”

It is just because she has the reputation of being a “friend” that Randolph and White should have taken extra steps to expose her letter and her attitude, and to explain that if she were a friend of the Negroes she would spend more time trying to convince her husband to grant the demands of the Negroes and less trying to convince the Negroes to withdraw their demands.

Uncle Tom Whines

Congressman Arthur Mitchell, only Negro member of Congress, chimed in and attacked the march too. The effects of this, of course, will be little, inasmuch as Mitchell has completely discredited himself before the Negroes by his endorsement of Roosevelt’s appointment of Negro-hating Senator Byrnes to the Supreme Court.

The official cabinet members and their “family” followed up with telegrams to Randolph, urging him to come to Washington to meet with Stimson and Knox. The Chicago Defender states:

“Though the purposes of the conferences were not mentioned in the invitations, it was expected that both secretaries would offer to correct some of the abuses which have angered Negroes if the parade plans are abandoned.”

March Already Justified

Thus, better than anything the March-On-Washington Committee might have said or done, the true significance of the March is being revealed in the frantic efforts of the Roosevelt administration to stifle it.

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