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David Coolidge

Negro March on Washington Called for July 1

Militant Mass Action Is the Only Kind of Language
That Will Bring Victory Over Jim-Crow

(16 June 1941)

From Labor Action, Vol. 5 No. 24, 16 June 1941, p. 2.
Transcribed & marked up by Einde O’ Callaghan for the Encyclopaedia of Trotskyism On-Line (ETOL).

A national committee of Negroes, headed by Walter White of the NAACP and A. Philip Randolph of the Brotherhood of Sleeping Car Porters, has issued a call to Negroes for a mass march on Washington, July 1. The committee calls on Negroes all. over the country “To March on Washington for Jobs and Equal Participation in National Defense.”

The march is to be a mass protest against Jim-Crow and discrimination: a protest against Jim-Crow and discrimination both by the federal government and private industry. The demonstration will revolve specifically around the “defense” program. The demand is made for participation of Negroes in that program without discrimination.

The Workers Party endorses these demands and the organized mass march on Washington to enforce the demands. Such organized mass protests and demonstrations will produce results for the Negro people. Militant mass demonstrations will not only influence the government but private industry as well. This is the kind of language they understand. Thousands and tens of thousands of Negroes massed in Washington will be an impressive sight. The government will know why they are there and the big employers of labor will know why they are there.

Roosevelt and his government know that there is Jim-Crow in the government. The employers in the so-called defense industries know that they are barring Negroes from employment in their factories. Both the federal government and the employers perpetrate Jim-Crow and discrimination on the Negro as a matter of national policy. Roosevelt and the employers know this all too well and it is not necessary to use much ink and paper to tell them so. The situation has been analyzed again and again. The time has come to change it.

All Must Participate

We hope that the committee in charge is determined to go through with the march and demonstration and that it will be a militant mass demonstration. We hope that Negroes will come from every corner of the land: sharecroppers and tenant farmers from the South; students and teachers from the Negro colleges; porters and janitors and railway employees; government workers, doctors, lawyers and preachers; housewives, coal miners and steel workers; mechanics and Negroes from every field of employment.

We wish that the statement of the committee had been clearer and more forthright on the question of the war and the economic basis of Jim-Crow and discrimination. This “Call to Negro America” says, that these are days of disaster “to democracy and freedom and the rights of minority peoples ...” The fact is that not only are the rights of minority peoples involved, but also the rights of the vast number of the majority peoples. For the present Second World Imperialist War is being fought between the great imperialist nations to determine which group of imperialists shall dominate the whole world; and not only the “minority peoples.” The Negro in the United States is caught up in the imperialist war drive just like the colonial people of Africa and India, and the workers of all the great and small capitalist countries.

Negroes can not escape from this imperialist net of misery, war and exploitation alone. They cannot by “their own power” alone “break down the barriers of discrimination against employment in national defense.” They can not alone “kill the deadly serpent of race hatred ...” or “smash through ... government, business and labor union red tape.” Jim-Crow in government and industry or in the labor unions is not a matter of “red tape” but one of the basic tenets of exploiting capitalist society in the United States. In the long run it is a fundamental operation of capitalist society that Negroes must “smash through” and not just bureaucratic “red tape.” The Negro can not accomplish this job alone.

What he can do alone is to begin a mass protest, such as the march on Washington, that will demonstrate that he is alive, awake and determined to fight militantly against Jim-Crow. This will, draw support for Negroes in their struggles, especially from the white workers.

Roosevelt Won’t Help

There is no question that if Roosevelt took a firm stand against Jim-Crow, there would be improvement in conditions. But an “executive order” from Roosevelt “abolishing discrimination in all government departments ... and national defense jobs” would not abolish discrimination any more than the Constitution and Civil Rights Bills “abolish” discrimination and Jim-Crow.

In the first place, neither Roosevelt nor the Roosevelt government has any real interest in abolishing Jim-Crow and discrimination, Roosevelt’s primary concern today is to lead the American imperialists to victory over the German imperialists. There can be no doubt that Roosevelt and his class plan to drop a few extra crumbs on the Negro’s plate to keep him quiet and make him a willing soldier in the imperialist war. The committee says that “We believe in national unity which recognizes equal opportunity of black and white citizens to jobs in national defense and the armed forces, and in all other institutions and endeavors in America.” The Workers Party believes firmly in that kind of national unity also but we don’t see it any place; we have never seen it, and we don’t expect to see it, under Roosevelt’s or any other capitalist government. National unity is only a cover under which the imperialists hide and conceal their real aims and intentions while the workers, white and black, do the fighting.

Where Is the Enemy?

The committee condemns “all dictatorships, fascist, nazi and communist. We are loyal, patriotic Americans all.” Well; we are against fascism and we are against Stalinism. We are against fascism and Stalinism in Germany and Russia and we are against fascism and Stalinism in the United States. We don’t believe however that to condemn the enumerated “dictatorships” will go far toward getting American Negroes their political, social and economic rights. It isn’t the “dictatorships” of other countries that oppress the Negro in the United States! We haven’t noticed any mobs coming over from Germany or Italy to lynch Negroes in the United States. It isn’t the fascist party of Hitler which keeps the anti-lynching bill from passing, but the Democratic Party of Roosevelt and the Republican Party of Willkie. The name of the head of the government that winks at Jim-Crow in the federal government is not Hitler but Roosevelt.

And so, condemning “dictatorships” 3,000 miles away isn’t going to aid in getting us past the dictatorship that oppresses the Negro right here in the United States.

The “Call” mentions Nat Turner, Denmark Vesey, Gabriel and Harriet Tubman. Good. We believe that these are good examples to hold up to Negroes and to all workers. The committee is correct; these Negroes “fought, bled and died” for freedom. The “Call” says they, along with Crispus Attucks, died for “the emancipation of Negro slaves and the preservation of American democracy.” However, we have the impression that Nat Turner and the others were not much concerned with “American democracy.”

”We sternly counsel against violence and ill-considered and intemperate action and the abuse of power,” says the “Call.” We are certain that there will be no violence, from the Negro demonstrators and “abuse of power” can only come from the Washington police or the Roosevelt government army. The Negro marchers will have no power to abuse. They will be in Washington, correctly, to demonstrate and protest against Jim-Crow.

Through Sweat and Blood

The committee points out that “our valiant and heroic forebears won the rights for Negroes to enjoy the priceless gift of freedom ... they won it through tears, toil, sweat and blood.” The “Call” points out correctly that this is a challenge to Negroes today. It is not so easy, however, to fit Nat Turner, Vesey, Gabriel and a few other Negro fighters of days past into some of the ideas of the committee. Nat Turner didn’t put in much time contemplating or condemning the oppressive governments of Europe in his day. He had an uncanny knowledge what government and what group it was that was oppressing him and the Negroes of his day. And we are of the opinion that Nat Turner, Vesey and Gabriel did not shed many tears. “Toil, sweat and blood,” yes, but not tears. That was a luxury they left to the other side.

The statement of the committee closes with a “call upon President Roosevelt, a great humanitarian and idealist, to follow in the footsteps of (Lincoln) to take the second decisive step ... and free American Negro citizens of ... Jim-Crowism in government departments and national defense.” We have never considered Roosevelt “a great humanitarian and idealist.” We remember his boast that it was he, when Assistant Secretary of the Navy, who wrote the Wall Street constitution for Haiti, after that little country had been stabbed and trodden under foot by U.S, marines. It is also Roosevelt who is leading this country into imperialist war for the benefit of that same ruling class he served when he wrote the constitution for little Haiti.

Also, we are not unmindful of the fact that Lincoln, “his noble and illustrious predecessor,” freed the slaves as a war measure. Lincoln was the servant of the rising American capitalism of his day. Roosevelt is the servant of the decadent and rotten monopoly capitalism of his day. Lincoln and the young Republican Party led the country to war against the South and the slave system in order to build the foundations of industrial capitalism in the United States. Lincoln expressed this by saying that his main task was the preservation of the Union, and that no nation could live half slave and half free: That is: two systems of labor, free and slave, could not exist side by side. The Civil War was fought to decide which system should prevail. Roosevelt, as the servant of today’s class of monopoly capitalists and imperialists, will not free American Negroes or the white workers. He will only forge stronger and heavier chains about the Negro and the white workers as a true representative of his class. This country is about to engage in a war to determine whether or not the Negro and white workers of the world and the colonial peoples shall be exploited and crushed by England and the United States or by Germany. The workers, white or black, can have no interest in choosing one group of exploiters over against another. We have already pointed out that the exploiters and lynchers of the Negroes are right here in the United Slates. Here is the place for the Negroes to do their fighting. The enemy is at home.

In Nat Turner’s Spirit

The Negro should fight for immediate demands just as the trade unions fight for immediate demands. He should fight for jobs and equality: against Jim-Crow, discrimination and disfranchisement. He should demonstrate and march and protest. He should prove to the country and to the white workers that he is ready to fight in mass formation. Negroes should prove to the white workers that they are ready not only to fight their own fight but the general struggle of the working class. They should call on the white workers to join them and they should join the white workers in the great struggle for the complete liberation of the working class of the world. This will carry the fight beyond any immediate demands, beyond a mere demand for jobs in capitalist war industries or for equal rights under a capitalist government. In this epoch Negroes as well as white workers can have no finer heroes than the great Negroes of the past – who fought against oppression and for freedom: Nat Turner, Denmark Vesey and Harriet Tubman.

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