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Albert Parker

The Negro Struggle

(4 April 1942)

From The Militant, Vol. 6 No. 14, 4 April 1942, p. 3.
Transcribed & marked up by Einde O’Callaghan for the Encyclopaedia of Trotskyism On-Line (ETOL).

Democracy and the Army

The United States government is building a big army which is supposed to preserve and restore democracy throughout the world. Meanwhile the men who run the army- (and the government) are getting into practice for this big job.

The Negro soldiers of the 25th Infantry, stationed in the state of Washington, have been barred from 20 hotels, cafes, cigar stores, pool rooms, etc., in the town of Walla Walla, according to evidence produced by the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People.

By itself, of course, there is very little novel about such a situation. Negro soldiers and civilians find themselves barred from public places in thousands of cities in the north as well as the south; these Jim Crow practices flourish even in states where there are specific civil rights laws against this kind, of discrimination; and Negroes are discouraged from entering countless establishments by slyly insulting signs saying “No shoe shine” or “No bootblack allowed.”

But what is especially interesting about this particular situation in Walla Walla is that the soldiers are barred from these places “for any purpose” by their own officers!

An official army order, dated Mar. 21, declares that “upon written requests from each of the following businesses ... each of the firms listed below are declared OFF LIMITS for all soldiers of the 25th Infantry ...” Of course, white soldiers are not barred from these establishments.

Democracy is a wonderful thing – for some people to talk about.

The Right to Vote

It does not seem at this time that the Pepper Senate bill to abolish payment of poll taxes as a requirement for voting in federal elections will be passed.

The leader of the Democratic Party, Roosevelt, has been silent about the bill, which is no wonder when we realize that it is the members of his own party who are kept in office through the poll tax. The poll-tax congressmen have been silent, but it is authoritatively reported that if the bill ever comes before the Senate, they will conduct another filibuster such as they carried on a couple of years ago to keep, the anti-lynch bill from being voted on.

All opponents of the Democratic Party dictatorship in the south will of course support the bill – weak and full of loopholes as it is – and any other measure that even partially lowers the bars that keep 10,000,000 Negroes and whites from voting in the south.

But it would be an illusion to believe that the mere passage of this bill by itself would permit the Negro people of the south' to vote. Something happened last week in Columbia, South Carolina, which will demonstrate this.

City officials there ruled, following a long-fight, that Negroes have the right to enroll to vote in the Democratic primary, but that party qualifications for voting – as well as poll tax payment – must be met before they can vote in the primary. The courts thus far have upheld the right of party executive committees to determine voting qualifications for their primaries. (The Democratic party, at the present time is the only one that ever wins in elections; if Negroes are deprived of the right of voting in the primary, their right to vote in the regular election is little more than a mockery.)

The city Democratic executive committee has decided that Negroes must meet the following qualifications: “Every Negro applying to vote in the city Democratic primary must be known to have voted the Democratic ticket continuously since 1876.”

As the Pittsburgh Courier correspondent points out, “According to that, a Negro must be at least 87 years old and must have voted the Democratic ticket for the last 66 years to be eligible now.”

This is clear proof that even aside from the poll tax issue, the Jim Crow parties and ruling class will still have plenty of legal ways of keeping the Negroes from voting. They have plenty of devices besides the “white primary” – and if they didn’t, they would invent them.

For example, there is the “educational requirement” for voting. In the hands of the Jim Crow state governments, this can be used to disfranchise every Negro, including those who have gone through college. All kinds of abstract and complicated questions can be asked by the registration clerks, and unless they can be answered to the “satisfaction” of these clerks, Negroes can be turned down. At the same time wholly illiterate whites will be accepted into the voting booths.

Then there are property qualifications for voting which still exist in some southern states, and which can be extended to include others. Under this 98% of the Negroes would be automatically excluded from voting.

And it must not be forgotten that the ruling class in the south did not use legal means at first to take away the Negro people’s right to vote. The first thing they did was use violence and terrorist bands to murder and beat up the Negroes who dared to want to vote; then, after that, they passed the discriminatory laws. The ruling class in the south would not hesitate for a moment to again resort to use of vigilante mobs, Ku Klux Klan and other such groups.

The Negro people must struggle for more than passage of the Pepper bill; in the final analysis they will secure and guarantee their right to vote only by a victorious struggle against the rule of the Jim Crow bosses and landlords and the whole system of Jim Crowism. That struggle will be just as tough as the struggle to restore democracy for the workers and minority groups in Germany.

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