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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

(27 September 1941)

From The Militant, Vol. V No. 39, 27 September 1941, p. 5.
Transcribed & marked up by Einde O’ Callaghan for the Encyclopaedia of Trotskyism On-Line (ETOL).

North or South?

Even before the latest series of attacks on Negro soldiers stationed in southern camps, the demand was raised by various groups that all Negro soldiers be transferred to northern camps. But after the murder of Private Ned Turman at Fort Bragg, N.C., and the mass desertions from Arkansas by Negro troops who had been assaulted by white mobs for marching on the highways and denied ammunition by their officers for self-protection, it became a leading slogan of many papers and writers.

On September 6 the Chicago Defender printed a front page editorial which declared that “removing Negro troops from the South because of unprovoked attacks by prejudiced civilians as advocated by one of our contemporaries is far from being an adequate, honest solution of the problem. Besides being an unwarranted, indefensible concession, such a step would be equivalent to an official condoning of the inexcusable barbarities that have been committed against Negro soldiers.”

The Defender asserts that Negro troops “should be kept in the south or in any other section of the country where it is necessary and convenient to train them,” that the “government ought to be prepared to defend its defenders at all costs,” that the soldiers should be equipped to defend themselves.

Schuyler’s Answer

The following week George Schuyler, Pittsburgh Courier columnist, stated his disagreements with the Defender: “Any step that removes these soldiers from insult, persecution and brutality because of their color is an adequate step.” He points out that the administration is “not going to MAKE the South accept these Negro soldiers as anything but outcasts” and that it is not going to permit Negro soldiers to defend themselves from unjustifiable attacks. He reminds the Defender also that Negro roops are not being attacked by civilians alone for the “cold, hard fact is that most of their mistreatment has been at the hands of the Army’s military police.”

“Since the question of honesty has been raised,” he continues, “why not be ENTIRELY honest, and urge that all separate Negro units be abolished and Negro recruits and selectees sent to the same units as white men? Why not be TRULY honest and admit that segregation and discrimination are inseparable, and that fair and equal treatment is impossible of attainment in a segregated setup?”

And Schuyler concludes his defense of the slogan demanding transfer of Negro soldiers to northern camps by declaring: “Keeping the present Negro soldier in the South will neither halt the outrageous treatment they are experiencing nor cause the Administration to end it. Hence the best solution is to not station these young men in the South.”

Schuyler finds it comparatively easy to discredit the proposal of the Defender editorial because it is based on a false premise: namely, that Negroes have reason to believe that the Jim Crow government might be interested in doing anything about persecution and brutality against Negroes.

The government has shown that the only concessions it “cannot afford to make” are concessions that might weaken the whole system of Jim Crowism in the south. Today especially it does not dare to do anything to offend the southern ruling class because most of the administration’s support for the imperialist war comes from the poll tax south. Dependence on the government or its War Department is nothing short of blindness. And that is the chief weakness of the Defender’s criticism of the proposal to move Negro troops north.

Both Viewpoints Are Wrong

But the fact that the Defender editorial presented a poor case, does not make Schuyler’s case any stronger. For his own arguments are full of holes, and Schuyler himself sows illusions that are as dangerous and misleading as the Defender’s. While the Defender fools itself with the idea that “our” government will help fight Jim Crowism, Schuyler fools himself with the idea that Negro soldiers are removed from Jim Crowism in the government’s northern camps.

Of course, “any step that removes these soldiers from insult, persecution and brutality because of their color is an adequate step.” But who dares to say that Negro soldiers don’t face insult, persecution and brutality in northern camps?

Schuyler reminds the Defender that it’s not only civilians but Army MP’s as well that mistreat the Negroes. Does he realize that this is an argument as much against himself as against the Defender? Or does he contend that northern MP’s love Negroes, while southern MP’s don’t?

Schuyler asked the Defender an interesting question. “Why not be TRULY honest and admit that segregation and discrimination are inseparable, and that fair and equal treatment is impossible of attainment in a segregated setup” (which exists just as much in the north as in the south)? But we’d like to have him answer it himself, and then justify his proposal as “an adequate step.”

But Schuyler’s argument can be punctured without referring to the obvious contradictions in his article. All we need do is refer to an incident that took place, a few days after his article was written, in the north, at Fort Ontario, New York, to be exact. For at this camp there occurred the same kind of attack on Negro soldiers by white soldiers that occurs in the south, Negro soldiers were attacked, beaten and driven out of the hospital. What does Schuyler propose for them? To go further north, perhaps? To Canada or Alaska?

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