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Grace Carlson

Study in Contrasts – How a Millionaire
and a Tenement Dweller Lived and Died

(2 June 1945)

From The Militant, Vol. IX No. 22, 2 June 1945, p. 4.
Transcribed & marked up by Einde O’ Callaghan for the Encyclopaedia of Trotskyism On-Line (ETOL).

Old-line politicians of the Republican and Democratic parties like to talk about the United States as the “land of equal opportunity for all.” And the less they practice “equality,” the more they talk about it! Southern Congressmen, like Senator Bilbo and Representative Rankin, who spend all of their time trying to keep the Negro citizens of this country from getting any rights are great ones to quote the Declaration of Independence.

“We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal; that they are endowed by their Creator with certain inalienable rights; that among these are life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness.”

But Charles Schwab, the steel magnate, and Jesse Little, the Negro factory worker from Newark, N.J., were not “equals” in this so-called “land of equal opportunity.” Certainly, Jesse Little did not have an equal right to “life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness.”

Contrasting Lives

Both of these men are dead now. Charles Schwab died in 1939 at the age of 77 after a lifetime spent in extravagantly luxurious surroundings. Jesse Little was burned to death in his Newark tenement home last month at the age of 26. The stories about the “homes” of both of these American citizens which appeared in the papers during April provide this tragic study in contrast.

The Baltimore Negro newspaper, The Afro-American, tells the story of the life and death of Jesse Little in its April 14 issue.

A low-paid worker of the Union Carbide and Carbon Company of Newark, Jesse Little could not afford to rent a pleasant, comfortable home for his family of four young children – not even a safe home! “The Littles paid $15 per month for a third-floor apartment – four rooms, no bath, no heat, and with ceilings approximately seven feet high.” This apartment located in a tenement house at 49 Broome St. was “a dilapidated frame building, the only exits being a narrow, winding stairway – boxed in between two houses – and a rickety fire escape with a none too reassuring appearance.”

Fire Trap

When the Afro-American reporter interviewed the owner of this fire trap, he learned that only $90 had been spent for repairs in 18 years and that there had been no fire inspection in 17 years. The owner “refused to say whether the building measured up to safety regulations.”

The night of Jesse Little’s death, his young wife awoke at 1:30 A.M. to see “flames bursting from the ceilings and walls.” “I grabbed my baby and one of the children and ran out,” she told the reporter, “then went back to get my husband and other two children.” When she reached the apartment, the fire had spread so that they could not enter, but she said, “I heard my husband inside stumbling around in the smoke. He was trying to find the children but he was forced toward the door by the terrible heat.”

She went on to relate how she beat her fists against the walls in order to help him find the way out. When she pulled him through the doorway, it was too late. “The husband collapsed and fell down the stairs. He succumbed the next day at the City Hospital. The two children died on the scene,” the news story ends.

Schwab’s Mansion

But the “home life” of Charles Schwab was quite different! According to a news story in the April 19 N.Y. World-Telegram, the Schwab mansion is for rent at $75,000 a year. Until his death in 1939 Schwab lived in this palatial residence, which occupies a full city block on Riverside Drive and Seventy-third St. in New York City.

As President of the United Steel Corporation and head of Bethlehem Steel Company, Schwab spent most of his time thinking up ways of “busting” unions and holding down the steelworkers’ wages. But he found enough time to direct the building of his mansion which cost him $3,000,000 in 1905. The furnishings cost another $5,000,000.

In describing the Schwab mansion the World-Telegram reporter says: “The unique 75-room structure has a private chapel, an art gallery, two elevators and a $50,000 pipe organ. Its kitchen could cook for 1,500 and its meat refrigerator would hold 20 tons of beef.” Other breathtaking details followed in the story; “a kitchen range, 14-ft. long,” a “60-ft. swimming pool, flanked by 10 Carrara marble pillars,” “hand-painted bathtubs” etc., etc.

Living members of America’s richest Sixty Families have mansions like this one.

Living members of the “ill-fed, ill-clothed, ill-housed one-third of the nation” are crowded into rickety tenements like the one that killed Jesse Little.

And that’s not exactly “equality of opportunity.”

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