International President, Brotherhood of Sleeping Car Porters, A.F. of L.
Excerpts from keynote address to the Policy Conference of the March on Washington Movement, meeting in Detroit, Michigan, September 26, 1942.
FELLOW MARCHERS and delegates to the Policy Conference of the March on Washington Movement and Friends:
We have met at an hour when the sinister shadows of war are lengthening and becoming more threatening. As one of the sections of the oppressed darker races, and representing a part of the exploited millions of the workers of the world, we are deeply concerned that the totalitarian legions of Hitler, Hirohito, and Mussolini do not batter the bastions of democracy. We know that our fate is tied up with the fate of the democratic way of life. And so, out of the depth of our hearts, a cry goes up for the triumph of the United Nations. But we would not be honest with ourselves were we to stop for a victory of arms alone. We know this is not enough. We fight that the democratic faiths, values, heritages and ideals may prevail.
Unless this war sound the death knell to the old Anglo-American empire systems, the hapless story of which is one of exploitation for the profit and power of a monopoly-capitalist economy, it will have been fought in vain. Our aim then must not only be to defeat Nazism, fascism, and militarism on the battlefield but to win the peace, for democracy, for freedom and the Brotherhood of Man without regard to his pigmentation, land of his birth or the God of his fathers.
We therefore sharply score the Atlantic Charter as expressing a vile and hateful racism and a manifestation of the tragic and utter collapse of an old, decadent democratic political liberalism which worshipped at the shrine of a world-conquering monopoly-capitalism. This system grew fat and waxed powerful off the sweat and tears of the tireless toilers of the human race and the sons and daughters of color in the underdeveloped lands of the world.
When this war ends, the people want something more than the dispersal of equality and power among individual citizens in a liberal, political democratic system. They demand with striking comparability the dispersal of equality and power among the citizen-workers in an economic-democracy that will make certain the assurance of the good life– the more abundant-life– in a warless world.
But, withal this condition of freedom, equality and democracy is not the gift of the gods. It is, the task of men, yes, men, brave men, honest men, determined men.
This is why we have met in Detroit in this Policy Conference of the March on Washington Movement. We have come to set forth our goals, declare our principles, formulate our policies, plan our program and discuss our methods, strategy, and tactics.
This is the job of every movement which seeks to map out clearly the direction in which it is going as well as build up and strengthen the motivations.
Now our goals are what we hope to attain. They are near and remote, immediate and ultimate. This requires the long and short range program.
Thus our feet are set in the path toward equality--economic, political and social and racial. Equality is the heart and, essence of democracy, freedom and justice. Without equality of opportunity in industry, in labor unions, schools and colleges, government, politics and before the law, without equality in social relations and in all phases of human endeavor, the Negro is certain to be consigned to an inferior status. There must be no dual standards of justice, no dual rights, privileges, duties or responsibilities of citizenship. No dual forms of freedom.
If Negroes are not the equal of white citizens, then they are unequal, either above. Or below them. But if they are to set the standards, Negroes will be below them. And if Negroes are considered unequal on a sub-standard- basis, then they will receive unequal or inferior treatment.
Justice for the slave is not the same justice for the freeman. Treatment of thoroughbred is not the same as the treatment of a workhorse.
But our nearer goals include the abolition of discrimination, segregation, and jim crow in the Government, the Army, Navy, Air Corps, U.S. Marine, Coast Guard, Women's Auxiliary Army Corps and the Waves, and defense industries; the elimination of discriminations in hotels, restaurants, on public transportation conveyances, in educational, recreational, cultural, and amusement and entertainment places such as theatres, beaches, and so forth.
We want the full works of citizenship with no reservations. We will accept nothing less.
But goals must be achieved. They are not secured because it is just and right that they be possessed; by Negro or white people. Slavery was not abolished because it was bad and unjust. It was abolished because men fought, bled and died on the battlefield in the Union Army and conquered the Confederate forces in the Civil War. Of course slavery was uneconomic, and would have disappeared in time, but this economic axiom involves no moral judgment.
Therefore, if Negroes secure their goals, immediate and remote, they must win them and to win them they must fight, sacrifice, suffer, go to jail, and if need be die for them. These rights will not be given. They must be taken.
Democracy was fought for and taken from political royalists--the kings. Industrial democracy, the rights of the workers to organize and designate the representatives of their own choosing to bargain collectively is being won and taken from the economic royalists – big business.
Now the realization of goals and rights by a nation, race or class requires belief in and loyalty to principles and policies. Principles represent the basic and deep human and social convictions of a man or a people such as democracy, equality, freedom of conscience, the deification of the state, protestantism. Policies rest upon principles. Concretely a policy sets forth one’s position on vital public questions such as political
affiliations, religious alliances. The March on Washington Movement must be opposed to partisan-political commitments, religious or denominational alliances. We cannot sup with the Communists, for they rule or ruin any movement. This is their policy. Our policy must be to shun them. This does not mean that Negro Communists may not join the
March on Washington Movement.
As to the compositions of our movement. Our policy is that it be all-Negro, and pro-Negro but not anti-white, or anti-Semitic or anti-labor or anti-Catholic. The reason for
this policy is that all oppressed people must assume the responsibility and take the initiative to free themselves. Jews must wage their battle to abolish anti-semitism. Catholics must wage -their battle to abolish anti-catholicism. The workers must wage their battle to advance and protect their interests and rights.
But this does not mean that because Jews must take the responsibility and initiatives to solve their own problems that they should not seek the cooperation and support of Gentiles, or that Catholics should not seek the support of Negroes, or that the workers should not attempt to enlist the backing of Jews, Catholics, and Negroes in their fight to win a strike; but the main reliance must be upon the workers themselves. By the same token because Negroes build an all-Negro movement such as the March, it does not follow that our movement should not call for the collaboration of Jews, Catholics, trade unions and white liberals to help restore the President's Fair Employment Practice Committee to its original status of independence, with responsibility to the President. That was done. William Green, President of the A. F. of L. and Philip Murray, President of C. I. 0. were called upon to send telegrams to the President to restore the Committee to its independence. Both responded. Their cooperation had its effects. Workers have formed citizens committees to back them while on strike, but this does not mean that they take those citizens into their unions as members. No, not at all.
And while the March on Washington Movement may find it advisable to form a citizens committee of friendly white citizens to give moral support to a fight against the poll tax
or white primaries, it does not imply that these white citizens or citizens of any racial group should be taken into the March on Washington Movement as members. The essential value of an all-Negro movement such as the March on Washington is that it helps to create faith by Negroes in Negroes. It develops a sense of self-reliance with Negroes depending on Negroes in vital matters. It helps to break down the slave psychology and inferiority complex in Negroes which comes and is nourished with Negroes relying on white people for direction and support. This inevitably happens in mixed organizations that are supposed to be in the Negro.
Now, in every community there are many and varied problems. Some are specialized and others are generalized. For instance the problem of anti-Semitism is a specialized one and must be attacked by the Jews through a Jewish organization which considers this question its major interest. The organization of the unorganized workers and the winning of wage increases, shorter hours, and better working conditions, is a specialized problem of workers which must be handled through a trade union composed of workers, not lawyers, doctors, preachers, or business men or by an organizations of
Catholics or Negroes.
The problem of lynching is a specialized one and Negroes must take the responsibility and initiative to solve it, because Negroes are the chief victims of it just as the workers are the victims of low wages and must act to change and raise them.
But the problems of taxation, sanitation, health, a proper school system, an efficient fire department, and crime are generalized problems. They don't only concern the workers or Jews or Negroes or Catholics but everybody and hence it is sound and proper social strategy, and policy for all of these groups in the community to form a generalized or composite movement, financed by all, to handle these problems that are definitely general in nature. Neither group can depend upon the other in dealing with a general social problem. No one group can handle it properly. But this same general organization could not be depended upon to fight for the abolition of segregation of Negroes in the government, or to abolish company unionism in the interest of the workers, or to fight anti-semitism. Its structure is too general to qualify it to attempt to solve a special problem. And, by the same logic, the Zionist Movement, or the Knights of Columbus, or the Longshoremen’s Union is too special in structure and purpose to be qualified to deal with such a general problem as crime or health or education in a community.
Therefore, while the March on Washington Movement is interested in the general problems of every community and will lend its aid to help solve them, it has as its major interest and task the liberation of the Negro people, and this is sound social economy. It is in conformity with the principle of the division of labor. No organization can do everything. Every organization can do something, and each organization is charged with the social responsibility to do that which it can do, it is built to do.
I have given quite some time to the discussion of this question of organizational structure and function and composition, because the March on Washington Movement is a mass movement of Negroes which is being built to achieve a definite objective, and is a departure from the usual pattern of Negro efforts and thinking. As a rule, Negroes do not choose to be to themselves in anything, they are only to themselves as a result of compulsive segregation. Negroes are together voluntarily for the same reason workers join voluntarily into a trade union. But because workers only join trade unions, does not mean that the very same workers may not join organizations composed of some non-workers, such as art museums or churches or fraternal lodges that have varying purposes. This same thing is true of Negroes. Because Negroes only can join the March on Washington Movement, does not indicate that Negroes in the M.O.W.M. may not join an inter-racial golf club or church or Elks Lodge or, debating society or trade union.
No one would claim that a society of Filipinos is undemocratic because it does not take in Japanese members, or that Catholics are anti-Jewish because the Jesuits won't accept Jews as members or that trade unions are not liberal because they deny membership to employers. Neither is the March on Washington Movement undemocratic because it confines its members to Negroes. Now this ii &b reasoning would not apply to a public school or a Pullman car because these agencies are a service which is necessary to all people of a community.
Now, the question of which I have been discussing involves, for example, the March on Washington Movement’s position on the war. We say that the Negro must fight for his democratic rights now for after the war it may be too late. This is our policy on the Negro and the war. But this policy raises the question of method, programs, strategy, and tactics; namely, how is this to be done. It is not sufficient to say that Negroes must fight for their rights now, during the war. Some methods must be devised, program set up, and strategy outlined.
This Policy Conference is designed to do this very thing. The first requirement to executing the policies of the March on Washington Movement is to have something to execute them with. This brings me to the consideration of organization. Organization supplies the power. The formulation of policies and the planning process furnish direction. Now there is organization and organization. Some people say, for instance, Negroes are already organized and they cite, The Sisters of the Mysterious Ten, The Sons and Daughters of I Will Arise, The Holy Rollers, the social clubs, and so forth. But
these organizations are about the individual interest of helping the sick and funeralizing the dead or providing amusement and recreation.
They deal with no social or racial problem which concerns of the entire people. The Negro people as a whole is not interested in whether Miss A. plays Contract Bridge on Friday or not, whether the deacon of the Methodist Church has a 200 or 500 dollar casket when he dies. These are personal questions. But the Negro race is concerned about Negroes being refused jobs in defense plants, or whether a Negro can purchase a lower in a Pullman Car, or whether the U. S. Treasury segregates Negro girls. Thus, while it is true Negroes are highly organized, the organizations are not built to deal with and manipulate the mechanics of power. Nobody cares how many Whist Clubs or churches or secret lodges Negroes establish because they are not compulsive or coercive. They don’t seek to transform the socioeconomic racial milieu. They accept
and do not challenge conditions with an action program.
Hence, it is apparent that the Negro needs more than organization. He needs mass organization with an action program, aggressive, bold and challenging in spirit. Such a movement is our March on Washington.
Our first job then is to actually organize millions of Negroes, and build them into block systems with captains to that they may be summoned into physical motion. Without this type of organization, Negroes will never develop mass power which is the most effective weapon a minority people can wield. Witness the strategy and maneuver of the people of India with mass civil disobedience and non-cooperation and the marches to the sea to make salt. It may be said that the Indian people have not won their freedom. This is so, but they will win it . . .
We must develop huge demonstrations because the world is used to big dramatic affairs. They think in terms of hundreds of thousands and millions and billions. Millions of Germans and Russians clash on the Eastern front. Billions of dollars are appropriated at the twinkling of an eye. Nothing little counts.
Besides, the unusual attracts. We must develop a series marches of Negroes at a given time in a hundred or more cities throughout the country, or stage a big march of a hundred thousand Negroes on Washington to put our cause into the main stream of public opinion and focus the attention of world interests. This is why India is in the news.
Therefore, our program is in part as follows:
1. A national conference for, the integration and expression of the integration and expression of the collective mind and will of the Negro masses.
2. The mobilization and proclamation of a nation-wide series of mass marches on the City Halls and City Councils to awaken the Negro masses and center attention upon the grievances and goals of the Negro people and to serve as training and discipline for the Negro masses for the more strenuous struggle of a March on Washington, if, as and when an affirmative decision is made thereon by the Negro masses of the country through our national conference.
3. A march on Washington as evidence to white America that black America is on a march for its rights and means business.
4. The picketing of the White House following the March on Washington and maintain the said picket line until the country and the world recognize the Negro has come of age and will sacrifice his all to counted as men, free men.
This program is drastic and exacting. It will test our best mettle and stamina and courage. Let me warn you that in these times of storm and stress, this program will be opposed. Our Movement therefore must be well-knit together. It must have moral and spiritual vision, understanding, and wisdom.
PROGRAM OF THE MARCH ON WASHINGTON MOVEMENT
1. We demand, in the interest of national unity, the abrogation of every law which makes a distinction in treatment between citizens based on religion, creed, color, or national origin. This means an end to Jim Crow in education, in housing, in transportation and in every other social, economic, and political privilege. Especially, we demand, in the capital of the nation, an end to all segregation in public places and in public institutions.
2. We demand legislation to enforce the Fifth and Fourteenth Amendments guaranteeing that no person shall be deprived of life, liberty or property without due process of law, so that the full weight of the national government may be used for the protection of life and thereby may end the disgrace of lynching.
3. We demand the enforcement of the Fourteenth and Fifteenth Amendments and the enactment of the Pepper Poll Tax bill so that all barriers in the exercise of suffrage are eliminated.
4. We demand the abolition of segregation and discrimination in the army, navy, marine corps, air corps, and all other branches of national defense.
5. We demand an end to discrimination in jobs and job training. Further, we demand that the F.E.P.C. be made a permanent administrative agency of the U.S. Government and that it be given power to enforce its decisions based on its findings.
6. We demand that federal funds be withheld from any agency which practices discrimination in the use of such funds.
7. We demand colored and minority group representation on all administrative agencies so that these groups may have recognition of their democratic right to participate in formulating policies.
8. We demand representation for the colored and minority racial groups on all missions, political and technical, which will be sent to the peace conference so that the interests of all people everywhere may be fully recognized and justly provided for in the post-war settlement.
From the Survey Graphic vol. 31 (November 1942), pp 488-89.