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David Coolidge

Lynch Mobs Spread Terror
in the South

(19 August 1946)

From Labor Action, Vol. 10 No. 33, 19 August 1946, p. 1.
Transcribed & marked up by Einde O’ Callaghan for the Encyclopaedia of Trotskyism On-Line (ETOL).

White mobs are still at it in the South, where “white supremacy” is maintained by the poll tax, murder, the rope, the club and the shotgun. This time they are upholding the glory of the white race in Alabama. Two white war veterans, who evidently did not see enough action against Hitler and Hirohito, decided to keep in condition for the next imperialist war by beating up a Negro resident of Athens, Ala. The two men were arrested, but were released by the mayor of the town when a mob gathered at the jail. I suppose the mayor decided that it wasn’t worth while to uphold “law and order” and then be found hanging from a tree. So when the mob promised to disperse, the mayor released the two white assailants.

PM, Marshall Field’s paragon of liberal virtue, reports that some little county judge handled the mob almost single-handedly at the beginning. The little judge insisted on “sanity,” says the PM account. And what was the “sanity”? The judge “talked the mob into electing six leaders to search a theater for the Negro whose disappearance had touched off the violence in the streets.” This, of course, was a terrible thing for this Negro to do. Get beat up and then run. He should have hung around until the mob came. He had no business to disappear and touch off “violence” in the streets. After a lone Negro is assaulted by two white men in Alabama, he is expected to remain on the spot until a mob gathers to finish the job.

The little judge was certainly an advocate of “sanity.” He quieted the mob by inducing it to wait until six of its leaders located the Negro. Then they could have taken him quietly to the outskirts of the town, tied him to a tree, saturated him with kerosene and had a nice quiet man-roast in the good old Southern tradition.

Why should the mob mill around when there was a more democratic way? They might wreck the theater or other property. They might storm the jail or burn it down. That’s not good for the taxpayers. They might go out to the Negro section and lay it waste. That’s not good for the white folk who own the property.

PM is jubilant over the progress of civilization in Alabama. It carries a map showing Columbia, Tenn., with the caption: “Race disturbance flared here last February. Twenty-five Negroes held for trial.” Monroe, Ga., is there with the caption: “Four Negroes lynched July 25; murderers still at large.” And Athens, Ala.: “White ringleaders of mob molesting Negroes Saturday night held for hearings.” PM’s story says that “authorities said that it was impossible to determine the number of Negroes injured, since they fled from the town or went to their homes.” This is what is known to liberal journalism as “molesting” Negroes. A few of them were accosted on the street. They were only called bad names. The mob of 500 was only trying to scare them.

A Little Education

PM closes its hopeful account with a statement from a native which “heartened those who deplore the outbreak.” Said the native: “We’ve got to stop doing it this way. It ain’t right. Maybe we’d just better educate ’em and let ’em earn a decent living.” “This from a man,” says PM, “who in the twenties might have been a member of a lynch gang. To Alabama’s liberals, it is better than they expected this year or next.”

I suppose that all of us should rejoice and be thankful along with PM and the Alabama liberals. Alabama lights the way to “sanity.” Furthermore, we tend to agree with the native. Education might help and a “decent living” for all in Alabama would do wonders.

But before education gets a chance or a “decent living” is the rule for all, we have an idea that there will have to be several thousand funerals in Alabama, Georgia, Tennessee and elsewhere. The little judge said that next Saturday they will be prepared to “turn the fire hose on any mob – nobody with wet clothes wants to lynch anybody.” We don’t know about this but we suspect that some mass ACTION in the South would be a far better deterrent to lynching than wet clothes. We think it would have a wonderful educational effect!

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