Notes on African-American History Since 1900

How did African Americans respond to the sit-down strikes of white auto workers trying to unionize?

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How did African Americans respond to the sit-down strikes of white auto workers trying to unionize?
Supported by the NACCP, African Americans in the 1930’s refused to be used by big business as strike breakers, supported white auto workers in their “sit down” strikes in efforts for them to unionize. As a result of African American support the CIO had a non-racist policy when they won the right to unionize. Three and one half million African Americans gained jobs as trade unionizes in the CIO.
What was the National Negro Congress (NNC)?
-A. Philip Randolph was elected president of NNC.

-composed of the Communist Party, the NAACP, the National Urban League and 500 African Americans organizations.

-First United Black front
The NNC, organized in the mid 1930’s filled a void that was not being met by the NAACP. The NAACP focused primarily on issues surrounding civil rights. The NNC was more concentrated on economic issues and the rights of African Americans not to be denied access to jobs and or equal compensation. Included in its leadership was Ralph Bunche and Adam Clayton Powell).
Similar strikes in Chicago and Pittsburgh won steel workers the right to unionize in Detroit, Michigan, W.D. Fard and his assistants Elijah Muhammad found the Nation of Islam.

The Communist party established the Negro Liberator newspaper.

-Through its African American Organizer, Harry Haywood, the Communist Party organized the Alabama Sharecropper Union which organizes 12,000 African American sharecroppers demanding redistribution, total racial equality and extensive federal relief.

-Several gun battles with local authorities took place.

DuBois left the NAACP because it lacked an economic program. DuBois advocated the establishment of black cooperatives.
Joe Lewis won fights
Works Progress Administration (WPA)

-renamed the Work Projects Administration

-Public Works Administration (PWA), and the National Youth Administrtion (NYA) established.

-Italy attacked Ethiopia bombed women and children using mustard gas.

-Roosevelt signed the Social Security Act of 1935
The NAACP established special legal counsel and hired Charles Houston of Howard University Law School.

Re-election of FDR – 75% of African Americans supported him.

Jesse Owens won four gold medals in the Olympics.
The Black Cabinet, an informal group of African American advisors led by Mary McLeod Bethune gained influence in segregated bureaucracies.


National Negro Youth Congress formed and started demonstrations in the south for racial equality
Hitler attacked Poland, but because of Soviet/Nazi – anti-Aggression pact, the Communist Party Abandoned the popular front strategy and attacked the NAACP and others inside the NNC.

-Hitler attacked the Soviet Union and the Communist Party said African Americans must shelve cause for civil rights and fight to save mother Russia.

-A. Philip Randolph resigned from the NNC.

-The most famous African American writer of the 1930’s and 40’s was Richard Wright.

-Richard Wright wrote “Native Son”.
The Roosevelt administration established the Civilian Conservation Corps (CCC) and employed 200,000 young African-American men. In 1935 the federal government formed the Work Projects Administration (WPA), Public Works Administration (PWA), the National Youth Administration (NYA) and signed the Social Security Act of 1935. The NAACP established a special legal counsel and hired Charles Hamilton Houston of the Howard University Law School. Houston trained Thurgood Marshall and a battery of civil rights lawyers; developed of legal strategy to breakdown Jim Crow, separate but equal segregation. DuBois left the NAACP because it lacked an economic program and advocates the establishment of African-American cooperatives. Paul Robeson united with British workers in England of their right to unionize and worked with George Padmore, C.L.R. James, Jomo Kenyatta and Kwame Nkrumah to help the African independence movement. Mary McLeod Bethune worked closely with the Roosevelt administration and headed an informal group of African-American advisors called the black cabinet.

George Padmore was born Malcolm Ivan Meredith Nurse in Arouca District, Tacarqua, Trinidad, in 1902. His father, James Hubert Nurse, was a local schoolmaster married to Anna Susanna Symster of Antigua, who was a naturalist. Padmore was brought to Port Spain where he attended school.

After finishing at the Tranquility School, he went to St. Mary’s College of the Immaculate Conception, the secondary school of the Holy Ghost Fathers.149

Padmore attended St. Mary’s for two years. He got a job with the Trinidad Publishing Company, reporting shipping news for the Weekly Guardian, and married Julia Semper in September 1924. Also in September 1924, Padmore moved to the United States to attend Fisk University in Nashville, Tennessee. Originally planning to study medicine, Padmore finally enrolled in Fisk in the fall term of 1925, changed his major to law, and began studying political science. He began writing for the student newspaper, The Fisk Herald, began public speaking on colonial issues, and attended student conferences. Due to the turbulence of the period and rumored pressure from the Klan, Padmore and his wife moved to New York where he enrolled in New York University Law School. He dropped out of New York University in December and enrolled in Howard University in Washington, D.C.
In the meantime, he joined the Communist Party and took the name George Padmore for his political work. While at Howard, Padmore joined an organization called the International Anti-Imperialist Youth League (IAIYL) and become its secretary. When the British ambassador to the United States spoke at Howard University’s International House, the IAIYL politically attacked him.

During this period, he traveled extensively for the Communist Party. By 1928, he was important enough to appear in The New York Daily Worker and, with Richard B. Moore, began editing a party paper in Harlem, The Negro Champion, which became The Weekly Liberator in late 1929.150

Padmore was sent to the Second Congress of the League Against Imperialism and for National Independence (LAI) along with James W. Ford, which met near the zoological gardens in Frankfurt, Germany from July 20-31, 1929. Shortly after the Congress, Padmore attended the Trade Union Unity League Convention in Cleveland, which marked the end of his American period. Padmore was chosen by the American Communist Party to give a report on the Cleveland meeting in Moscow. He was selected to be part of the Profintern (Red International of Labour Unions or RILU) and lectured on colonialism at Kutiu (The University of the Toilers of the East), a training center for colonial students.
He was soon chosen to head the RILU’s Negro bureau. Padmore wrote articles on Negro and African matters in The Moscow Daily News and sat on various commissions concerning colonial issues. His main job was to supervise the activities of black people worldwide. The First International Conference of Negro Workers, which Padmore helped plan, was held in Hamburg, July 7-9, 1930.151
Padmore had to move to various countries and cities, because of the rise of fascism in Europe. He wrote about six pamphlets during this time dealing with trade union work of ‘Negro’ workers. In 1933, Padmore was arrested with others in Copenhagen. After serving six months in jail, he was deported to England. Also, in August of 1933, the Comintern (Communist International) decided to disband the ITUC-NW (International of Negro Workers). Padmore, upon learning of this decision, resigned from the Comintern. By 1935, Padmore was being attacked as being a traitor to the cause of communism by blacks in the Communist Party in various countries, particularly the United States.
Padmore began to work with African students when he returned to London. He established rapport with, among others, the West African Students’ Union (WASU).

Amy Ashwood Garvey joined James Padmore, Kenyatta, Makonnen, Wallace-Johnson, W.E.F. Ward, and Fitz Braithwaite to form a successor organization, the International African Service Bureau (IASB), with the aim of furthering the cause of anti-colonialism.152

Padmore began working with C.L.R. James and the International African Friends of Ethiopia and the League of Coloured Peoples in 1931. He moved to London in 1935, contacting C.L.R. James while he was there. He remained in London from 1931 to 1945 conducting political study classes for some colonial students.
In 1937, Padmore, with others, established the International African Service Bureau (IASB). The IASB’s motto was “Educate, Cooperate, Emancipate”. The IASB published a journal, The International African Opinion, which C.L.R. James edited before leaving for, what he thought would be, a brief stay in the United States. The IASB agitated for Africa’s freedom from colonialism during World War II. Padmore received a West African student, Kwame “Francis” Nkrumah, who had come to England for graduate study. Nkrumah met C.L.R. James at the University of Pennsylvania in the United States. James had initial discussions with Nkrumah in New York and James knew that Nkrumah was going to England. So he sent an introductory letter with Nkrumah, asking Padmore to train Nkrumah. This relationship would change the course of history in Africa at a later date.
In late 1944, Padmore and others formed the Pan African Federation (PAF). Francis K. Nkrumah (Kwame Nkrumah) became a joint secretary of the Federation. He soon established a secretariat for West African affairs and worked with WASU. With the blessings of Dr. DuBois at Padmore’s and Nkrumah’s initiative, the fifth Pan African Congress was held in Manchester, England in October of 1945.
At Padmore’s prodding, a couple of years after the conference, Nkrumah accepted a position with a Gold Coast Political Party. After much infighting, Nkrumah broke with the party and formed his own Convention People’s Party, initiating nonviolent direct action, “positive action” demanding immediate independence of the Gold Coast, which was later named Ghana. Ghana won its independence in 1957, becoming the first independent African country south of the Sahara Desert. Padmore joined Nkrumah, becoming a personal advisor where he remained until departing for London in 1959, where he died.
Who was C. L. R. James?
The early years of his socialist activism took place primarily in England where he was an organizer and active member of the Independent Labor Party. Along with Paul Robeson and others, James was instrumental in African Friends of Ethiopia to facilitate that mission.
Cyril Lionel Robert James was born in Trinidad in 1901. In young adulthood James left to write and study in London. He began as a sports writer, writing primarily about cricket, as well as some fiction. James soon became involved in the Pan African and Trotskyist movements in England. Around 1934 he became an active member and organizer in the Independent Labor Party (ILP) and led strikes of English workers, and worked with the unemployed for immediate relief. He soon joined the Revolutionary Socialist League (RSL) and edited the newspaper Fight. While in England, James met and worked with Paul Robeson. Both worked together to spread socialism among persons of African descent. He also met George Padmore. There, James, Robeson, and Padmore began to develop strategies for world-wide African liberation. When fascist Italy attacked and invaded Ethiopia, James helped organize the International African Friends of Ethiopia (IAFE).
In 1937, James, Padmore, and Africans such as Jomo Kenyatta organized the International African Service Bureau (IASB), which advocated the decolonization of Africa. James became an international figure through his early books. He wrote World Revolution 1917-1936, which was published in 1937. In 1938, James established himself as a historian and theoretician with the publication of Black Jacobins: Toussaint L’Ouverture and the San Domingo Revolutions, and a study of the 1791 Haitian Revolution and History of the Negro Revolt.

James was invited to come to the United States by the Socialist Workers Party (SWP). He arrived in November 1938 and immediately embarked on an extensive speaking tour which took him across America – from the East Coast through the Midwest and down into California.153

Originally scheduled to spend three months in America, James ended up staying fifteen years. James went to Coyoacan, Mexico in 1938 and met with Leon Trotsky. Out of those initial discussions came the Trotskyist position on the progressive character of Black Nationalism.
During 1941, James spent five months in Southern Missouri helping to organize a strike of African American sharecroppers and union activists. The strike was a success and James reported about it in the Workers’ Party newspaper, Labor Action. James insisted, in a paper written subsequent to the Coyoacan meeting that:

  1. The Negro represents potentially the most revolutionary section of the population.

  2. African Americans are ready to respond to militant leadership.

  3. African Americans will respond to political situations abroad that concern him.

  4. African Americans are more militant today than ever.

To bring large numbers of blacks into the party’s orbit, James argued that the SWP must take the lead in establishing an independent, all-black organization that would fight for civil rights.154
Trotsky questioned if the SWP had the resources to do this. Soon after the meeting in 1941, an agent of Stalin assassinated Trotsky, but James and Trotsky had a split prior to that. Trotsky called for all workers of all countries to support the Soviet Union in World War II, because even though a bureaucracy ruled, it was still a workers state. James disagreed, stating that workers in Western capitalist countries should try to turn the imperialist war into a civil war and should oppose the war.

Returning to New York, James began writing for Socialist Appeal and the SWP’s theoretical journal, New International (a monthly organ of revolutionary Marxism). His articles played a significant role in articulating the party’s opposition to the war, which James regarded as an imperialist quarrel over the contours of political power in the second half of the twentieth century.155

In 1940, a split took place inside the SWP concerning whether the Soviet Union was progressive or not. Led by Max Shachtman, the faction stated that the Soviet Union was an anti-democratic state of a new type, neither capitalist, nor socialist. Disagreeing with the split in the SWP, but siding with the Shachtman group (who had formed the party in 1940); James traveled to the West Coast. He began working with Raya Dunayevskaya, translator and personal secretary to Trotsky. She encouraged him to stay in the United States in order to develop his ideas, that the Soviet Union was a capitalist state.
When James’ visa expired, he assumed the name J.R. Johnson, ceased public speaking and went underground. In 1941, working with Dunayevskaya, they formed the Johnson (James) –Forest (Dunayevskaya) Tendency. The Johnson-Forest Tendency advanced the theory of state capitalism, further developed Marxist theory (The Americanization of Bolshevikism), and advocated that African Americans form their own black led organizations to advance their liberation cause. In essence, James posed the point that the African Americans struggle for democratic rights in the United States was a direct part of the struggle for socialism. The Johnson-Forest Tendency left the SWP and joined with the Workers Party, then split with the Workers Party in 1947 to rejoin the SWP. In working with the Workers Party, James (Johnson) wrote over twenty articles for its journal, New International, between 1940 and 1947.
The Johnson-Forest Tendency grew to upwards from 70 to 100 members by 1947. It emphasized the self-activity of the working class, favored decentralization as opposed to bureaucracy, and the free association of individuals. This was described in a pamphlet, The Invading Socialist Society. In the 1950s, the Johnson-Forest Tendency engaged in voluminous theory work.

The group translated sections of Marx’s 1844 Economic-Philosophical Manuscripts, urged rejuvenation of Hegelian philosophical discussion among Marxists, and publicized the extra-political and extra-union activity of militant workers.156

The Johnson-Forest Tendency was strong in New York and Detroit. The formed a periodical called Correspondence. James, in the early fifties, lived in Detroit for a while. In 1952, during the height of the cold war, the United States declared James an “undesirable alien”. James was arrested for visa violations, held prisoner for nine months, and deported in 1953. James moved back to England. In that time James wrote a book to describe his case against deportation called, Mariners, Renegades and Castaways.
The Johnson-Forest Tendency soon split. Dunayevskaya broke off from Correspondence to form a Marxist/humanist group, News and Letters, in 1955. The Correspondence group continued to publish with James Boggs named as editor. James Boggs, with his wife Grace Lee continued to be a major force on the developing African American Left, in Detroit and around the country. In the winter of 1962, the Correspondence group of about 25 individuals had a major split. Grace Lee Boggs writes on the split,

It centered around the changes in the work force because of cybernation and automation which Jimmy (James Boggs) grappled with more seriously than any other theoretician in the black movement. Because Jimmy was such an “organic intellectual”, developing his ideas from living struggle, because he was actually on the scene, (working in the plant since the early 40s), he recognized that the changes in production had weakened the unions and that the next great movement was going to come from blacks. C.L.R., who was in Europe, was living by the ideas that had come out of an earlier struggle. He saw Jimmy’s analysis and his proposal that the organization undertake a serious study of the development of American capitalism as a threat and repudiation of Marxism. Those who supported Jimmy on this issue kept Correspondence. Those who supported C.L.R. formed a group called Facing Reality (which was led by Martin Glaberman).157

While C.L.R. James direct influence in the United States decreased, that of James and Grace Lee Boggs, his previous co-workers, increased. James and Grace Lee Boggs profoundly influenced Malcolm X, organizations such as the Revolutionary Action Movement, and the League of Revolutionary Black Workers.
In 1948, at the SWP convention, James elaborated on the theory of an autonomous black liberation movement (BLM) in an article titled The Revolutionary Answer to the Negro Problems in the United States. James raised the position that:

  1. The independent Negro struggle, has vitality and a validity of its own.

  1. This independent Negro movement is able to intervene with terrific force upon the general social and political life of the nation despite the fact that it is waged under the banner of democratic rights.

  1. The “BLM” is able to exercise a powerful influence upon the revolutionary proletariat, that it has a great contribution to make to the development of the proletariat in the United States, and that it is in itself a consistent part of the struggle for socialism.158

In his document James foresaw that African Americans would soon disrupt American society reaching a new stage of national consciousness that would lead them into militant independent political action. From this concrete day-to-day practice to secure national democratic rights, African Americans would realize their collective power and find allies. This new African American protest movement would inspire, instruct and transform working class politics.

Much of the American Communist Party’s theoretical position came from the prodding of leaders of the African Blood Brotherhood (ABB), Cyril Briggs, Otto Husswood, and Richard B. Moore. They advocated achieving African American self-determination by creating a republic in the Black Belt South. Husswood and Haywood raised it with Stalin and Finnish comrades in the USSR while Stalin was preparing for the Third International, during his theoretical battles with the remaining supporters of Leon Trotsky. Husswood’s objective was to proceed linearly from Lenin’s 1913 analysis, where he said that African Americans appeared to be an oppressed nation in the Southern United States. Getting this position fought out inside the American Communist Party was a sixteen-year battle for the African Blood Brotherhood. The ABB raised these concepts with Garvey inside the U.N.I.A., and Garvey briefly called for a Black Republic in the South, only to drop it in favor of “Returning to Africa”.
The methodology imposed by Stalin, Third International and the American Communist Party, was mechanical in the sense that such a struggle for “autonomy of self-determination” up to and including independence, was relegating revolutionary African American organizations to Communist Front organizations. The whole process would be led from the democratic centralist control of a multi-national Communist Party.
James, on the other hand, responding to the Communist Party’s position, which had become formalized by 1936, discussed the Stalinist position with Trotsky in Mexico in 1939. He formulated his thesis, The Revolutionary Answer to the Negro Problem in the United States in 1948, the same time that Harry Haywood had further developed the Stalinist position in his book, Negro Liberation, also published in 1948. James stated that he African American protest movement would, in itself, be a powerful influence upon revolutionary proletariat, and a constituent part (vanguard) of the struggle for socialism.
In the early 50’s James split from the SWP and helped form the Worker’s Party. He moved to Detroit where he led study circles with Grace Lee Boggs and James Boggs, an auto worker from Alabama. He would later break with Grace and James Boggs, but through them indirectly impact on RAM, and the League of Revolutionary Black Workers (LRBW). In 1952, the United States government declared C. L. R. James to be and “undesirable alien”. James was imprisoned on Rikers Island and deported in late 1953. James stayed in England for five years and later moved back to Trinidad. Though C. L. R. James’ immediate impact on the BLM was thwarted, he deeply influenced the revolutionary movement. He returned to the United States in 1968, periodically lecturing and advising the LRBW.
In 1935 the Joint Committee on National Recovery, a coalition of twenty-three Black organizations met at Howard University and discussed the idea of forming a National Congress. The National Negro Congress (NNC) met in February 1936 in Chicago.159 There were 817 delegates present representing 585 organizations from 28 states. A. Philip Randolph was elected President of the NNC and within a year 30 local councils of the NCC were formed around the country. The NCC forged an alliance with the CIO and was effective in helping to organize Black steelworkers. Through the NNC support of the CIO, black workers viewed the automobile sit-down strikes in the late thirties as a progressive development. A second meeting of the National Negro Congress was held in Philadelphia in 1937. A youth group, the Southern Negro Youth Congress, was also set up in that year. In 1939 the Soviet Union signed a non-aggression peace pact with Nazi-Germany. With the change in foreign policy of the Soviet Union the line of the Communist Party (USA) changed also.
Overnight the line of the Communist Party (USA) shifted from organizing a popular front against fascism to attacking Franklin Delano Roosevelt and keeping the United States out of an imperialist war. In the National Negro Congress a showdown occurred between A. Philip Randolph and the Communists. The Communists seized control of the NNC and railroaded their denunciation of Roosevelt’s war preparation and British and French imperialism. Randolph and others felt domestic issues were more important than issues of foreign policy and in protest Randolph resigned as President of the NNC, denouncing the Communists.
Blacks at this time were generally anti-war in that they saw little reason to fight for a country that was not prepared to grant them even basic human rights. The Communist Party, for its part, sought within the NNC to shift the entire emphasis of the program from domestic issues to foreign aid. Randolph had no trust with such an opportunistic approach to the concerns of Black people.160
As America prepared for World War II, African-American leaders turned their concern to segregation in the armed services. When a White House conference in 1940 failed to bring any results, A. Philip Randolph called for a Black March on Washington. Through the Brotherhood of Sleeping Car Porters of which he was President, A. Philip Randolph began mobilizing in New York most of the African-American civil rights organizations into the March on Washington Movement. Randolph had called for a March on Washington of 50,000 African-Americans to demand the federal government provide African-Americans with jobs in the war industry. The March on Washington Movement branches formed all over the country. At Randolph’s insistence the March on Washington Movement was kept all black. The Communist Party came out against the March on Washington Movement.
A. Philip Randolph was called “the most dangerous black man in America” by J. Edgar Hoover and a “black Hitler” by the American Communist Party. The March on Washington Movement which forced FDR to pass executive order 8802 eliminating racial discrimination in all he helped secure employment of one million African Americans
At its inception, the C.P. attacked the March on Washington Movement as a key component of the government’s strategy to seduce Blacks into the war effort and stripped of its conspiratorial overtones this analysis does carry some weight. However, after Hitler’s invasion of the U.S.S.R., in June, 1941, C.P. policy took another about face. Now the Soviet Union must be defended at all costs and organizations such as the March on Washington Movement, which might hinder the intervention of the United States, were no longer seen as agents of the federal government, but rather as agents of the Nazis.161
On the eve of the March on Washington Roosevelt issued Executive Order 8802, establishing the Committee on Fair Employment ending racial discrimination in government hiring. A. Philip Randolph called the March on Washington off. As a result of the March on Washington Movement, one and half million African-Americans obtained federal employment during the 1940's. Japan attacked Pearl Harbor sinking American ships and the United States entered World War II.

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