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Albert Gates

The War To Save “Democracy” ... and Jim Crow!

(January 1942)

From Labor Action, Vol. 6 No. 3, 19 January 1942, pp. 1 & 2.
Transcribed & marked up by Einde O’ Callaghan for the Encyclopaedia of Trotskyism On-Line (ETOL).

The position of the American Negro as an exploited, subjugated and persecuted minority in the United States was never a matter of doubt. It was one of those phenomena of a peculiar American democracy which everyone acknowledged with a shrug of the shoulder, and some even gleefully. Discrimination, Jim Crow, and lynching are the most obvious expressions of the position, of the American Negro in this country. It takes the form of periodic physical assaults upon this minority race – and every such event is quickly hushed up by a conspiracy of silence on the part of the boss press.

Nothing new has happened to change the position of the Negro people since the United States entered the war. But the character of the new situation, the alteration in the lives of the people as a result of the war program; the attempt to build a mass army and the transformation of industry on war basis, has only aggravated the conditions of the Negro people and made more intense the persecution and discrimination against them.

The Roosevelt Administration declares that it has entered the war to fight aggression, totalitarianism; racialism and, for the second time in twenty-five years, to make the world safe for democracy. But it is obvious that the rulers of our country do not thereby mean that these things shall apply to the Negro people.

At a time when industry is completely engaged in war production and requires a great mass of skilled and semi-skilled labor, discrimination against the Negro worker is widespread. It makes no difference what his qualifications may be. He has the greatest difficulty in obtaining a job. Only the unskilled and menial jobs are for him.

No adequate housing program exists for the whole working and poor population. But this applies even more to the Negro race, which is the poorest section of the population. On the other hand, in the Jim Crow neighborhoods where the Negroes live, they are gouged by grasping landlords who enrich themselves on the sweat and blood of the colored peoples.

But the outstanding act of Jim Crow and discrimination against the Negro is in the armed forces now being raised to wage “the war for democracy.”

The Navy is the worst offender against the Negro people. No Negroes are taken into the Navy except as mess boys and latrine cleaners. There is no subtlety used by the Navy chiefs in the discrimination against the Negro. They speak plainly and bluntly: They don’t want “niggers” in their organization. Naturally, they are not at all squeamish, nor do they suffer any pangs of conscience when they with one hand take the money donated to them by Joe Louis and with the other say to the Negroes: You aren’t allowed in the Navy unless you want to clean toilets or mess around galleys.

Many papers, especially New York’s PM, point out how different the Army treats the Negro. Yet is this really true? Certainly the Army does not make public its discrimination and Jim Crow policy against the Negro. But there are not mixed regiments. The Negro is very often given laboring jobs in the Army, hauling equipment, cleaning work, etc. He has no genuine equality.

The Negro soldier in the Army feels his discrimination in a thousand ways. On more than one occasion, shootings have taken place in which Negro boys were the victims of white mounted police, who evidently regard as their main task the ordering of Negro boys about while they hold their guns with itching fingers, which often shoot.

The latest incident broke out in Alexandria, La. Seven thousand Negro soldiers had congregated in the Negro neighborhood after pay day. A riot broke out between the Negro soldiers and white mounted police over what is reported as an attempt by the police to arrest a Negro soldier. It appears that the mounted police, aided by the police chief and 300 of his men, won out. The payoff is this: thirty-one Negroes were injured; three of them seriously. The Negro boys came from Pennsylvania, New York and New Jersey. They are encamped in the South!

Army officials promised a statement on the fight. None has yet been issued. Obviously, it doesn’t do any good to have more than 12,000,000 Negroes learn that all the evils of capitalist life are carried over into the Army.

The Negroes are a subject race and as long as capitalism exists, freedom and democracy for them is an unattainable goal. The future of the Negro race lies in socialism, a society of real freedom and democracy.

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