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James M. Fenwick

Off Limits

(14 October 1946)

From Labor Action, Vol. 10 No. 41, 14 October 1946, p. 4.
Transcribed & marked up by Einde O’Callaghan for the ETOL.

The Negro Digest recently conducted a poll among Negroes on the question, “Should Negroes support compulsory army training?” The poll, taken in April of this year, showed an overwhelmingly negative vote. The percentage breakdown by geographical areas was as follows:

















The almost total opposition to compulsory military training is very impressive. It is all the more indicative when contrasted with polls taken among the general population, where a good two-thirds support compulsory military training. Further, Negro opposition has increased since October 1945, when a similar poll was taken.

The figures are also interesting in showing the higher level of consciousness existing in northern Negroes in contrast to those of the South, where opposition to military training is eleven per cent less than in the North.

Reasons for Negro Opposition

The reason for the opposition to military training is simple. It lies in the army policy of Jim Crow, which during the war reached the absolute but logical madness of Jim Crow blood plasma.

The end of the war did not mean the end of Jim Crow. It merely took other and additional forms. Recently, at a time when selective service pools were running low, it was announced that no more Negro enlistments would be accepted. Further, Negroes will no longer be sent to Europe – only to the South Pacific.

The reason for barring Negroes from the ETO is obvious. The Negro quickly learned in Europe that discrimination as practiced in the United States was virtually non-existent. That is why many Negro troops took their discharges in Europe to settle there. Europe puts ideas into Negroes heads – strange ideas about equality.

For that reason the army brass considers the South Pacific a better place for them. The caste lines with native colored populations have been sharply drawn there. Further, life on some Godforsaken atoll is rude and uncivilized compared to life even in devastated Europe. Hence the assignment of Negroes to the more primitive areas of the world.

It is not difficult to see why Negroes do not take seriously the present airy chatter about democratizing the army.


Why Negroes Enlist in the Army

If this is so, then why are Negroes attempting to join or rejoin the army in such large numbers? For it is a fact that the re-enlistment rate is proportionately higher than among whites. Negroes constitute fourteen per cent of all persons who, following the war, elected to remain in the army.

Some, of course, hoped to get. to Europe, where despite the insane discipline of the army and the infuriating Jim Crow, a Negro can more nearly hold up his head like a human being. But the desire to enlist persists even after the chance to go to Europe has disappeared.

The main motive for joining is an economic one – as it is among an increasing number of white troops. With the new pay schedules which prevail, the dependency allotments, and the army food, a Negro and his dependents can very often live better than in civil life. This is especially true of the depressed Southern Negro whose miserable job opportunities are even worse than those of the Northern Negro.

There are few worse indictments of the evils of life under capitalism than that a man should join the army to escape them.

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