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Grace Carlson

The Struggle for Civil Rights

(3 July 1948)

From The Militant, Vol. 12 No. 29, 19 July 1948, p. 4.
Transcribed & marked up by Einde O’ Callaghan for the Encyclopaedia of Trotskyism On-Line (ETOL).

The following is the acceptance speech of Grace Carlson, SWP vice-presidential candidate, entitled The Struggle For Civil Rights, which was delivered to the 13th annual convention of the SWP and broadcast over the ABC network on July 3.

Delegates to the 13th National Convention of the Socialist Workers Party!
Workingmen and working women of America!

It is with the deepest gratitude that I have accepted your nomination as candidate for the Vice-President of the United States.

I consider it not only an honor but a responsibility and an opportunity.

It is a high honor to be the first vice-presidential candidate of the American Trotskyist movement.

It is a solemn responsibility to carry the banner of truth and socialism in a world ridden with capitalist corruption and deceit.

It offers an unexampled opportunity to unmask the plot of the fascist-minded rulers of this country who seek to destroy the hard-won rights and liberties of the American people.

I want to discuss this question here tonight. I want to expose the duplicity of Harry Truman, the double-dealing of Thomas E. Dewey and the hypocrisy of Henry Wallace.

I want to tell you about the Socialist Workers Party struggle to protect arid extend civil liberties.

We stand for full social, political and economic equality for the Negro people and all other minority groups. We are fighting to put an end to the whole shameful system of jim Crow – to abolish the poll tax; to end discrimination in employment and housing; to put a stop to police brutality and outlaw lynching

This is no mere vote-catching platform. We are enlisted in the war against Jim Crow for the duration.

The fourteen, millions of Negroes are Americans in. every sense of the word, yet they live as sub-citizens. I need not dwell upon the persecution, the degradation, the humiliation to which all American Negroes are subjected. Everybody knows it. That is the greatest shame of all!

The Federal Government itself is the greatest perpetrator of Jim Crow. Through its Jim Crow Army it carried this shame into every corner of the earth. And this was under the administration of President Roosevelt – and Henry Wallace.

For years bills for the abolition of the poll tax, for federal legislation against lynching, for a Fair Employment Practices Commission have been kicked around by the Democrats and Republicans in Congress.

Today President Truman is seeking the Negro vole. So he has made a resounding declaration in favor of rights for Negroes. But at the same time his Secretary of Defense, James Forrestal, declares that segregation in the armed forces will continue. Washington itself, the very capital of the United States, is a Jim Crow city. In Washington some of the most vicious anti Negro practices of the deep South are shamelessly maintained, in full view of the President, the Congress and the Supreme Court!

Truman’s Civil Rights Program Is Phoney

Nobody is fooled by President Truman’s program for civil rights, least of all the Negro people. All through American history they have fought for their rights. They have formed innumerable organizations of struggle. Through one of the organizations, the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People, in Minnesota, 1 have been able to participate in this struggle for over ten years. The Socialist Workers Party welcomes with pride the spirit of resistance of the Negro people of which the defiant attitude of A. Philip Randolph and Grant Reynolds, is only one expression.

But Negroes are not the only persecuted minority in the country. The Mexican people in California and Texas are persecuted by reactionary landlords and capitalist interests. They are shunted away into ghettoes. They are the victims of unending police brutality.

Anti-Semitism is growing every day in the United States. Daily, Jews are segregated by restrictive covenants written and unwritten, insulted, threatened and refused employment simply because they are Jews. And this after we supposedly fought a war. against Hitlerism – which began with anti-Semitism and ended with – concentration camps, and gas chambers!

America was built by immigrants and prided itself on being a haven for political refugees. Today the Immigration Department and the FBI persecute foreign-born workers with a vindictiveness and a ferocity that is shocking.

The second imperialist war was fought under the banner of “democracy” and “freedom.” Yet it was the administration of Roosevelt – and Henry Wallace – which treated American citizens of Japanese descent with sickening brutality.

Negroes, Mexicans, Indians, Jews, Japanese. That is their story.

And why does all this take place? Because the Wall Street billionaires want to keep their investment safe. They want no change in the accepted policy of white supremacy. They wish to feed prejudices against Negroes, Jews, Mexicans and other minorities so as to distract the attention of the people from the crimes and the chaos of the capitalist system itself.

They wish to keep the working people divided for easier exploitation. We know that method. Hitler made it famous, or should I say, infamous.

SWP Speaks for Persecuted Minorities

We of the Socialist Workers Party speak for a different America. We want the world to know that in this presidential campaign of 1948 we speak as the true inheritors of the great American traditions of resistance to tyranny – the traditions of Patrick Henry and Sam Adams, of William Lloyd Garrison and John Brown – traditions 'which the Republican and Democratic Parties are dragging in the mud.

We speak for the persecuted minorities. If they can be deprived of their liberties, who can feel his own rights safe? All of our traditional liberties are now in mortal danger.

The Taft-Hartley Slave Law strikes at the rights of 60 million workers and their families. The Mundt Bill aims at giving the government the power to jail and persecute every citizen and organization that opposes the tyrannical policies of the ruling class.

Only those who are wilfully blind can fail to see that in every sphere the government and the capitalist masters of this country are rapidly forging the chains by which they hope to establish complete domination over the thoughts and actions of the whole people, and above all of the working class.

My friends, that is the way totalitarianism is prepared. When the dictator finally makes his appearance and his bid for power, his path has been smoothed first by the persecution of minorities.

That is why today the defense of the rights of minorities is the defense of the liberties of all. Such is the nature of capitalism that at a certain stage it must treat the great masses of the people as if they too were an alien minority. America can be safe from totalitarianism only if the people recognize the ultimate objective of their capitalist rulers and resist them without compromise.

Today the persecuted Negroes, Mexicans and the victims of anti-Semitism must feel confident that a great unity of all the oppressed and persecuted is being forged by capitalism itselfT-that their minority struggles are fast becoming the common struggle.

The rich were able to place Hitler in power because of the failure of the labor leadership and the Stalinist party in Germany.

How to Fight This Evil?

Today the workers know that they are the ones especially aimed at. They were ready for a nationwide resistance against the Taft-Hartley Bill. Their leaders sabotaged it. But we present ourselves to you in this campaign with one dominating idea. We believe that only the most uncompromising resistance by all the oppressed and all the persecuted can create the forces to smash the encroaching tyranny. We are supremely confident in the readiness of the workers and minorities to do this.

The real problem is how to fight this evil. Certainly it cannot be fought by supporting the Democrats, or Republicans, or the Wallace party. They will do nothing. Their words are nothing but election promises.

We must draw the necessary conclusions. We must break with capitalist politics, capitalist parties and capitalist politicians. The minorities must join forces with the organized workers for militant, independent class action.

This does not mean merely voting at election time, although that is important. It also means action – organized protest by groups, organizations and whole communities.

Organized labor, the most powerful force in the country – and for that reason the most threatened – must take the lead in the defense of civil liberties. It must initiate, in every sphere, the traditional methods of struggle of the labor movement, struggles such as those which built the CIO and have defended the working class against its capitalist enemies.

This is the message of the Socialist Workers Party in this campaign.

This is the program we ask you to vote for. But above all this is the program we ask you to act upon.

In summoning you to this struggle, the Socialist Workers Party comes with clean hands and an unblemished record.

Trotskyists have paid with their lives and liberty for resisting tyranny all over the world, yes, even in the United States.

Tonight 1 want to end with a message to one particular section of our people – the most oppressed, the most expoited, the most humiliated in the United States. I am speaking directly to the Negro men and women lh this country who live in the Deep South.

The Socialist Workers Party has members of all races and nationalities in its ranks. We want you to know, brothers and sisters, that for us there can be no talk of freedom in the United States until you are free. We of the Socialist Workers Party know how you suffer. We know the heroic struggles you have to wage every day, every hour, every minute of your lives. Even though so many of you are deprived of the right to vote for us in this election, we would like to hear from you. Write to us. Tell us about your problems – your struggles, and your suffering. I pledge myself to bring your plight before the American people as a symbol of capitalist oppression, your struggle as the symbol of the road to freedom.

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