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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

A Little History

(11 October 1941)

From The Militant, Vol. V No. 41, 11 October 1941, p. 5.
Transcribed & marked up by Einde O’ Callaghan for the Encyclopaedia of Trotskyism On-Line (ETOL).

Last week John McCormack of Newark, N.J., concluded a letter to the editor of The Militant with the question: “What good is the executive order that Roosevelt issued if it hasn’t got teeth to enforce it?”

We suspect that McCormack knew very well the answer to his own question. But if there is any one else who isn’t aware of the fraud and hypocrisy being practiced by the Roosevelt administration toward the problem of jobs without discrimination for Negroes, we reprint the following parts of an article by George McCray, Negro labor commentator, from the Chicago Bee, Sept. 21, 1941:

Many people have an almost childlike faith in the power of powerless government committees and commissions. During N.R.A., when we not only had a National Labor Board, but labor adjustment boards for various industries, organized labor learned that these boards of Mr. Roosevelt often wasted a lot of precious time but never got much accomplished. It seems as though Negroes are going to make a similar discovery.

No Results

Here is an enlightening series of events: July, 1940; the National Defense Advisory Commission stipulated that workers should not be discriminated against because of age, race, or color. No discernible change.

April 12, 1941; Negro employment and training branch was established in the Office of Production Management to make pleas for the removal of “employment barriers erected against competent and available colored workers either by employers or labor organizations.” Some results achieved, but frankly hardly worth mentioning. The most strenuous efforts of such field workers for OPM as Poston and Weaver succeeded in placing a half dozen Negroes here and there.

Most of the gains made in the building industry were due to a shortage of labor in many areas and to the bitter battles being fought between the AFL and the CIO to dominate the building industry. When the CIO went after Negro construction workers the AFL decided the time was ripe to change its policies and grant Negroes work permits, rarely union membership.

No Change

April 11, 1941; both Hillman and Knudsen sent letters to defense contractors urging them to drop discrimination. No change.

No Change

June 25, 1941; President Roosevelt, very much irritated by A.P. Randolph’s threatened march to Washington, took “strong” measures to prevent discrimination against Negroes. Government agencies were cautioned, a non-discrimination clause was to be placed in defense contracts; and another committee, this time one on Fair Employment Practices was to be created, to make investigations and to redress grievances. So far no change, but it should be remembered that the well-meaning, hard-working men on the committee really haven’t had time to tackle the problem.

No Change

August, 1941; Fair Employment Practices committee called on President, had their pictures taken, and recommended that he call on all government agencies to drop segregation and discrimination against Negroes. Seems like this was done once before.

Another Letter

August or September, 1941; President issues letter asking various department heads to review employment policies.

Some Results

September, 1941; Associated Negro Press carried story of five Negro stenographers who had been hired, in the United States war department over which Mr. Roosevelt himself is boss. The girls were “hidden away on the second floor in the sixth wing of the huge munitions building of the war department” with practically nothing to do.

In short, to sum up the whole experience in October, 1941, all the letters, statements, orders, and “well-meaning” committeemen in the world are not going to be able to do anything basic about job Jim Crow. The Negro masses can depend only on their own organized strength to win concessions and to win full equality.

* * *

Hastie Can’t Answer Baldwin

In a letter to the New York Times, Oct. 4, William H. Hastie, Negro Civilian Aide to the Secretary of War, attempted to answer some remarks in an article in the Sept. 30 Times written by that paper’s military commentator, Hanson W. Baldwin.

In this article, devoted to a discussion of conclusions that could be drawn from the recently completed Army maneuvers, Baldwin stated that it was the “virtually unanimous belief of many officers that they (Negro soldiers) do not make good combat soldiers” and that “many officers say that the present tendency to increase the proportion of Negroes in the combat arms of the Army is dictated by political pressure and is dangerous to the efficiency of the Army.”

Hastie undertook to argue the question. But he was unable – and afraid – to deal with the point in Baldwin’s article that is visible to everyone that wants to see it: namely, that although Negro soldiers by and large are functioning as well as any others in the Army, their officers, in the face of all the favorable evidence given by Baldwin, still belittle and underrate them.

Hastie doesn’t mind showing Baldwin’s mistakes – but he has nothing to say about this attitude, fostered and tolerated by Hastie’s own superiors and covered up by him, that is the source of all the discrimination shown the Negro.

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Last updated: 21 March 2019