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R. Craine

Three Mississippi Negroes Lynched

Southern Rulers Launch New Wave of Violence to Keep Oppressed Negro “In His Place”

(October 1942)

From Labor Action, Vol. 6 No. 43, 26 October 1942, pp. 1 & 2.
Transcribed & marked up by Einde O’ Callaghan for the Encyclopaedia of Trotskyism On-Line (ETOL).

The state of Mississippi celebrated Columbus Day by lynching two 14-year-old Negro boys who had been accused of waylaying a 13-year-old white girl. This was followed by a third lynching several days later and brings the total number, of KNOWN lynchings this year up to five.

The story surrounding the lynchings is the usual one. Two youngsters, Charlie Lang and Ernest Green, both of Shubuta, Miss., had been placed for “safe-keeping” in the Quitman, Miss., jail following their arrest on a charge of attempted rape. Before they could be brought to trial, a mob of “indignant citizens, outraged at the alleged crime,” broke into the jail house, “overpowered” the sheriff, “robbed” him of his keys, removed the two boys from their cells, lynched them and left their bodies hanging from the bridge on which the attack on the girl was supposed to have occurred. The lynching party over, the sheriff came to, rushed to the scene and found the two dead boys.

Same Old Story

Everything about this lynching leads to the conclusion that it was all pre-arranged. The sheriff is left without adequate protection for his prisoners, he responds to a hammering at the door (an engaged mob could scarcely have tapped gently), and is “overpowered.” After the whole ghastly affair is over, he is recovered and sets out on a search for the bodies, which are found suspended from the bridge where no less than six previous lynchings had occurred.

Five days later, on October 17, another Negro, Howard Wash, convicted and sentenced to life imprisonment for the shooting of his employer, was dragged from his cell, and lynched near Laurel, Miss., some thirty miles from the scene of the Columbus Day atrocity.

As is usual, the perpetrators of these acts will most likely not be found and the cases will be closed as “murder by persons unknown.” The slate will be swept clean and ready for the next victim.

Even when the criminals are discovered, the press refuses to name them, as in the case of Cleo Wright, who was murdered in Southern Missouri. Those who dared name the lynchers were almost lynched themselves – and driven out of the community by a tar-and-feathers mob. Labor Action, defying such threats, and seeking to bring to justice those who lynched Cleo Wright, carried full and detailed information about the circumstances of the murder and named the persons guilty of the crime. The criminals are still at large.

Why the Lynchings?

This year America is setting all sorts of records, especially in production, as a result of the war. The new high rate of lynchings is part of this record. What is the connection between the two?

Wars cannot be fought by guns alone – they are fought by people, who are called upon to make all kinds of sacrifices. The working class has lost its right to strike, has had its wages frozen, is threatened with job freezing, has had high taxes imposed upon it, and is sending its sons to die in the front lines. These sacrifices cannot be gotten without some sort of promises about what victory will bring. Hence the speeches about the “new world,” “the people’s century,” the rights of man, the four freedoms – and Roosevelt’s exhortation that racial prejudices be forgotten.

Afraid that the Negroes will take seriously these lofty speeches and that they will seek to enforce them here, in the United States, the Southern rulers who are determined to perpetuate the rule of “white supremacy,” are resorting once again to lynchings as a method of keeping the Negro in his place. Five acknowledged lynchings in less than a year, is no accidental phenomenon; it is the answer of reaction to the attempt of the Negro to establish democracy for himself at home.

How hypocritical are the “patriotic” pratings about liberty, equality, freedom for all, when in eight stages millions of Negroes and poor whites are still disfranchised by the poll-tax!

Congress and the Poll-Tax

Congress, under a great deal of pressure from labor and liberal organizations, has finally passed the anti-poll-tax law. The bill is now before a Senate committee, which, is stalling in an attempt to make the law invalid. If it is not passed by January 1, the previous work done on it will have to be started over again. The poll-tax bloc knows that time is precious and it is seeking to kill the bill by wasting this precious element. In this it has the tacit support of those members of the Senate Judiciary Committee who are “uncommitted” on the bill.

Passage of the anti-poll-tax bill is only one small step in the direction of abolishing the system of Jim Crow. Next is needed an anti-lynch law which will make it a crime for any state or local peace officers to fail to protect their prisoners from mob violence, and which will seek out the lynchers and punish them. Such a bill has been before Congress for many years – each time defeated in its passage by Southern and reactionary representatives.

Labor – black and white – must unite in an effort to get this legislation passed and to see to it that it is carried out. That is the only way. Pious speeches on holidays won’t do the trick – nor will appeals by the President that racial prejudice be forgotten bring this about. United and determined action will.

Now is the time to act! Demand the passage of the anti-poll-tax bill by the Senate! Demand the immediate reintroduction and enactment of the anti-lynch bill!

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