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Albert Parker

The Negro Struggle

“Labor with a White Skin Cannot Emancipate Itself Where Labor with a Black Skin Is Branded” – Karl Marx

(17 January 1942)

From The Militant, Vol 6 No. 3, 17 January 1942, p. 3.
Transcribed & marked up by Einde O’ Callaghan for the Encyclopaedia of Trotskyism On-Line (ETOL).

15 Other Negro Heroes

After reading again the other day about the heroic exploits of the Negro mess attendant on the sinking battleship, U.S.S. Arizona, my mind went back to the case of 15 other Negro mess attendants on another Navy ship, the U.S.S. Philadelphia.

The Arizona mess attendant, I thought, “forgot his place,” which, according to Navy regulations, is down in the galley. On Dec. 7, at Pearl Harbc|r, he “forgot his place” and seized a machine gun and used it till his ammunition ran out.

The 15 Philadelphia mess attendants also “forgot their place.” They had joined the Navy to become sailors and soon learned that in the Navy Negroes can serve only as sea-going dishwashers and lackeys. On top of this, they were subjected to all kinds of insult and abuse from their officers.

They sat down and wrote a letter to a Negro newspaper, The Pittsburgh Courier, protesting against the Jim Crow regulations which bar them from Navy positions outside of the mess division, and expressing the desire to get training in the Navy just as all other sailors do. They all signed their names to the letter.

As soon as the letter was printed, they were placed under arrest. A few weeks later, during the first week of Dec., 1940, almost a year to the day before the attack on Pearl Harbor, when the case had reached its end, they were fired out of the Navy with “undesirable discharges”— for “the good of the service,” as it was put by Admiral Nimitz, then chief of the Bureau of Navigation.

I was reminded of those 15 Negro sailors because to my mind, although they did not get honorable mention, although practically nobody wrote about their bravery, their action was every bit as heroic as that which characterized the mess attendant on the Arizona. Their action in writing that letter should be remembered and honored just as much as the different kind of action of the Arizona sailor.

P.S. After looking up the stories about the 15 sailors printed in this paper over a year ago, I find that at the time they signed that letter, the Philadelphia was stationed at ... Pearl Harbor.

The Symbols of Democracy

Democracy apparently means different things to different people. It certainly doesn’t mean the same thing to an auto magnate and an auto worker thrown out of his job. It doesn’t mean the same thing for a worker on strike and a boss trying to break a strike. It doesn’t mean the same thing for a lynch mob and the intended victim of a lynch mob. It doesn’t mean the same thing for Secretary of the Navy Knox and ... a Negro mess attendant.

But what we want to discuss here is not democracy, but a symbol of democracy. We are certain that there are many symbols of democracy, and that they differ as much and as often as the definitions of democracy itself. To a member of the Sixty Families, democracy's best symbol is probably a dollar sign. A rope and a torch would go good as a symbol of democracy as it is understood by the defenders of Jim Crow.

Mr. S. Sloan Colt, Director of the Red Cross War Drive, has his own ideas about democracy and its symbols.

In reply to a letter from a doctor protesting the refusal of the Red Cross to accept blood from Negroes for its blood bank, Colt wrote as follows:

“The Red Cross is now able to obtain from white donors enough blood to keep all the processing plants fully occupied so that the total amount of blood plasma available to the armed forces is not lessened by our inability to accept Negro donors.”

If this statement has any pertinence, it is that the Red Cross doesn’t care very much if Negroes are angry about being Jim Crowed even when they want to donate their very blood, as long as they were able to get the amount of blood they want from white people. This implies that maybe later on, when it needs more blood than it can get from white donors, the Red Cross will do something about the protests of the Negro people.

Then after admitting that there are no scientific objections to transfusions of the blood of Negroes, Colt went on to say:

It seems that the feelings and perhaps even the prejudices of individuals to whom transfusions are given should be respected as a symbol of democracy.”

If Jim Crow prejudices are the symbol, then what must be the democracy they symbolize for which Negroes are called on to give up their lives?

Joe Louis and the Navy

Joe Louis was on the receiving end of a lot of applause on Jan. 9 because he risked his title in a bout against Buddy Baer without getting a nickel in return. Even Secretary of the Navy Knox sent a telegram and a special representative for the occasion. All of Louis’ share of the purse was contributed to the Naval Relief Fund.

But if Louis had gone down to the Naval recruiting station the next morning, he would still have been told that they were sorry, “but Negroes are admitted into the Navy only as mess attendants.”

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