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Albert Parker

The Negro Struggle

(18 April 1942)

From The Militant, Vol. 6 No. 16, 18 April 1942, p. 3.
Transcribed & marked up by Einde O’Callaghan for the Encyclopaedia of Trotskyism On-Line (ETOL).

New Jim Crow Plans for the Navy

After Pearl Harbor, the demand for the abolition of Jim Crow bars against Negroes in the Navy and Marines became louder and more insistent than ever. Last week Secretary of the Navy Knox announced a new plan affecting Negroes in these branches of the armed forces. An examination of this plan shows that it is not intended to do away with the much-denounced racial discrimination and segregation; all that it is intended to accomplish is to weaken and eliminate some of the criticism that has been aroused: Negroes will still be treated as “inferiors” and the “war for democracy” will still be fought by Jim Crow armed force.

Up until now, Negroes were permitted to serve only as mess stewards and cooks in the Navy, and not at all in the Marines. After this new plan goes into effect – and it will take some time – the following changes will be made:

The whole plan will begin as soon as the Navy can establish “a suitable training station,” that is, a Jim Crow training station. Meanwhile, recruiting for service as messmen will continue without change ...

Lip Service by Knox

Add this all up, and what does it equal? Knox and the administration have paid some formal recognition to the idea that Negroes should have the right to serve in all branches of the armed services. But putting some Negroes on small boats around the shores and in the navy yards or sending them as labor battalions to other countries, does not at all change the fact that Negroes will still be segregated and discriminated against only because of their color!

The National Association for the Advancement of Colored People was quick to call Knox to order on his alibi for barring Negroes from serving as commissioned officers even in the segregated setup because it takes “years to train officers.” It pointed out that “at present the Navy is taking men off college campuses and out of civilian life daily and is giving them intensive training so that they can become commissioned officers. One such class was graduated recently from a training ship in the Hudson River.”

If this can be done with whites, obviously it can be done with Negroes too. The fact that Knox does not intend to do this is proof that he doesn’t want to. Knox said of his whole plan: “We are going into this in a cordial spirit of experimentation that will produce the least possible difficulties.” What he meant was that he was going to pay a little lip-service to all the anti-Jim Crow agitation while at the same time making the least possible concessions to the idea of Negro and white equality.

“Progress” – and Some History

The New York Herald-Tribune called this step an innovation and other papers hailed it as unprecedented, etc. Some groups have admitted its limitations, but say, “Well, it is not perfect, but anyhow it’s a step forward.” This is a completely false way of looking at the matter.

For it overlooks the fact that only 25 years ago, during the first world war, Negroes were accepted into the Navy on exactly the same basis as whites, and were not segregated. Of course, they did not have full equality even then, but at least they were allowed in the same crews as white sailors, and had the same formal right to become officers, etc. Then, 20 years ago, in 1922, after the war had been won, an order was issued barring Negroes from any service except in the messman branch.

In other words, Negroes in the middle of the second “war to save democracy” are worse off so far as discrimination in the Navy goes than their fathers were at the beginning of the first “war to save democracy.”

Anybody who calls this a step forward is in the same position as the man who was earning $30 a week, and then got cut to $20 for doing the same work, and now is happy because he is “raised” to $22 a week?

The only reason Knox offered this new plan was to “satisfy” the Negro people that they have something to fight for, that after the war they will secure greater rights. But it will not achieve that effect; advanced Negroes will recognize it only as an attempt to avoid giving them genuine equality in the armed forces; they will never believe that democracy can be preserved, or extended by a Jim Crow armed force. They together with all class-conscious workers must continue the struggle for democratic rights in the armed forces and the abolition of all forms of military Jim Crowism.

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