ChickenBones: A Journal
for Literary & Artistic African-American Themes
www.nathanielturner.com Unlike Walter White of the NAACP and Adam Clayton Powell, Jr., who had become a New York City Councilman, Randolph looked like a Negro. And in spite of a Harvard accent, he told the Negroes what they wanted to hear
Books by Ellen Tarry
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Books on A. Philip Randolph
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Randolph & the Great White Father
Roosevelt Issues Executive Order 8802
A Perspective by Ellen Tarry
Harlem is always restless but there was an added sir of rebellious discontent hanging over the community in the latter part of 1940. Hiring was going on in the plants which manufactured materials necessary to the war efforts of our friends across the sea. Prices were rising with the higher wages Harlem read about. Negroes felt that they were being left out of the war effort and they were angry.
Wherever there was a gathering of Negroes there was bound to be hostile talk, which they considered righteous indignation. Too often I heard hate, too, and it frightened me. It was not unusual to see a couple of Negroes beating a white man who had come to Harlem to enjoy wine, women, or song and instead had gotten drunk and called somebody a nigger.
What was happening in Harlem was happening all over the country. The Negro had not been integrated with the industrial effort to prepare for a war which we would inevitably enter. Tension rose in areas where money was slow to trickle in and it was obvious that some steps would have to be taken.
There was much talk of the need for a leader, and A. Philip Randolph of the Brotherhood of Sleeping Car Porters was being mentioned as a man about whom Negro America might rally. In our Monday night meetings at Friendship House this general unrest was one of the frequent topics of discussion.
It was February of 1941 when a call to organize resounded. A. Philip Randolph, who had publicly expressed the belief that nothing short of organized and dramatic mass protest and pressure could place the cause of the Negro in the mainstream of public of public opinion, proposed a March on Washington Movement, with chapters in every major city. Participation in the war effort through employment was the objective. If the Negro was not integrated, a march on the nations capital was to take place.
The March on Washington Movement captured the imagination of the Negro masses. During my lifetime I have read or heard talk of only one other mass movement among my people which reached national proportionthe Marcus Garvey movement with its back-to-Africa plan which was disintegrating around the time I came to new York. Garvey, who was deported to his native Jamaica, was said to have possessed many of the same qualities of leadership which were winning support among Negroes for A. Philip Randolph.
Unlike Walter White of the NAACP and Adam Clayton Powell, Jr., who had become a New York City Councilman, Randolph looked like a Negro. And in spite of a Harvard accent, he told the Negroes what they wanted to hear; namely, that they were Americans and entitled to all the rights guaranteed by the Constitution. Furthermore, Randolph promised to lead his people to the doors of congress if steps were not taken to curb racial discrimination in industry.
The Negro press carried stories weekly of instances in which factory doors were closed in the faces if qualified Negroes. Pleas for fair play fell on ears that refused to hear. get ready to march was the word passed along and July 1, 1941, was the deadline. Motor pools were set up and cars were canvassed as master plans for the line of march were projected. With each passing day the Movement gained momentum but there was still no word from the White House or Congress.
By June of 1941 the whole country knew the Negroes were planning to march on Washington. President Roosevelt called A. Philip Randolph and Walter White to Washington for a conference. Layle Lane, a New York teacher, and a labor leader, Frank Crosswaith, accompanied Randolph and White.
It is reported that the President sought desperately to persuade Randolph to call off the march. He pointed to the need for unity in a time of war and suggested that the conference method, rather than mass pressure, was the American way of dealing with minority problems. The Negro committee would not relent. Randolph realized, however, that the President was inclined to admit that the demands he was making for the Negroes of America were just and Randolph proposed an executive order forbidding discrimination in industry.
Pending any developments which might have resulted from the conference with the President, plans for the March moved ahead. It is rumored that there was a second conference in New York City with Mrs. Roosevelt and Mayor Fiorello La Guardia urging Randolph to call a halt to the proposed March on July 1. Randolph is said to have repeated his demand for an executive order and expressed his determination to march if the order was not forthcoming.
On June 25, 1941, Franklin D. Roosevelt issued Executive Order 8802, which stated:
. . . I do hereby reaffirm the policy of the United States that there shall be no discrimination in the employment of workers in defense industries or Government because of race, creed, color, or national origin and I do hereby declare that it is the duty of employers and of labor organizations, in furtherance of said policy and of this order, to provide for the full and equitable participation of all workers in defense industries, without discrimination because of race, creed, color or national origin. . . .
There was no justification for the March after the order was given, and Randolph canceled the mass protest. His followers received both the Presidents declaration and Randolphs no march order with mixed emotions. Negroes were skeptical that industry would comply with Executive Order 8802 and the machinery of the march had been put in such high gear that it was difficult to stop it. Many Negroes were so emotional they could not see the wisdom of their leaders strategy and insisted that Randolph should not have canceled the mass protest.
On June 28th, 1941, two days before the proposed march, a major network donated air time for A. Philip Randolph to make a radio speech explaining the reasons for his action and urging the Negroes of America to contribute their brain and brawn to the war effort. He reaffirmed the determination of the march on Washington Movement to fight until full participation was a reality.
President Roosevelt created the first Fair Employment Practices Committee, composed of seven consultants, two of whom were Negroes, to oversee the enforcement of his executive order. The order and the FEPC served to rekindle the Negroes faith in their government. (175-178)
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To write of Harlem in 1945 without making mention of the great sorrow which blanketed the community on April 12 at the death of Franklin Delano Roosevelt would be a serious oversight. Regardless of the numerous controversies which have arisen over the role played by our wartime president, Roosevelt was the first chief executive since Lincoln who succeeded in creating a national atmosphere in which the Negro felt as if he were really free.
I was ironing the last of a pile of tiny dresses when the announcement was made over the radio that Roosevelt had died in Warm Springs, Georgia. At first I thought I had been mistaken, then as additional details filled in the death picture my first impulse was to call out to someone, to say: Can it be true? But I was alone except for the baby. I took her in my arms and said a prayer for the repose of the soul of this every human, physically handicapped man who, by being aware of the changing tides and nodding at the right times, had helped my people to walk taller, to dream and to hope.
When I went out to shop, the streets were crowded with little groups of Negroes standing aimlessly together looking as if they were lost. Some were crying. Others were asking: What will happen now? What will become of us? Franklin Delano Roosevelt succeeded in making many enemies, but none of them that I have known was black. He was our Great White Father, the first since Father Abraham, and we were bereft. (253-254)
Source: Ellen Tarry. The Third Door: The Autobiography of an American Negro Woman. New York: David McKay Company, Inc., 1955.
Ellen Tarry (September 26, 1906 September 23, 2008) was an African-American author of literature for children and young adults. Tarry was the first African American picture book author. She was born in Birmingham, Alabama. Although raised in the Congregational Church, she converted to Roman Catholicism in 1922. She attended Alabama State Normal School, now Alabama State University, and became a teacher in Birmingham. At the same time, she began writing a column for the local African-American newspaper entitled “Negroes of Note”, which focused on racial injustice and promoted racial pride. In 1929, she moved to New York City in hope of becoming a writer. There she befriended such Harlem Renaissance literary figures as Langston Hughes, Claude McKay and Countee Cullen.
She was also a civil servant, social worker, and educator. A friend of Claude McKay and James Weldon Johnson she attended the Writer’s Laboratory in New York and obtained a job as writer-researcher in New York’s Federal Writers’ Project. She also joined White Russian Catherine de Hueck’s Harlem movement “The House of Friendship.” She was the author of such children books as Janie Belle, My Dog Minty, Hezekiah Horton, Young Jim: The Early Years of James Weldon Johnson and made many aware of The Other Toussaint.
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Asa Philip Randolph was born April 15, 1889 in Crescent City, Florida, the second son of the Rev. James William Randolph, a tailor and minister in the African Methodist Episcopal Church, and Elizabeth Robinson Randolph, a skilled seamstress. In 1891 the family moved to Jacksonville, Florida, which had a thriving, well-established African-American community.
From his father, Randolph learned that color was less important than a person’s character and conduct. From his mother, he learned the importance of education and of defending oneself physically against those who would seek to hurt one or one’s family, if necessary. Randolph remembered vividly the night his mother sat in the front room of their house with a loaded shotgun across her lap, while his father tucked a pistol under his coat and went off to prevent a mob from lynching a man at the local county jail.
He was a leader in the U.S.’s Negro civil-rights movement and the American labor movement. He organized and led the Brotherhood of Sleeping Car Porters, the first predominantly Negro labor union. In the early civil-rights movement, Randolph led the March on Washington Movement, which convinced Franklin D. Roosevelt to desegregate production-plants for military supplies during World War II.
In 1963, Randolph was the head of the March on Washington, which was organized by Bayard Rustin, at which Reverend Martin Luther King, Jr. delivered his I Have A Dream speech. Randolph inspired the Freedom budget, sometimes called the “Randolph Freedom budget,” which aimed to deal with the economic problems facing the Negro community, particularly workers and unemployed Negroes. . . .
Randolph died May 16, 1979. A statue of A. Philip Randolph was erected in his honor in the concourse of Union Station in Washington, D.C. In 1986 a nine-foot bronze statue of Randolph by Tina Allen was erected in Boston’s Back Bay commuter train station. On February 3, 1989, the United States Postal Service issued a 25 cent postage stamp in his honor. In 2002, scholar Molefi Kete Asante listed A. Philip Randolph on his list of 100 Greatest African Americans
Books on A. Philip Randolph
Jervis Anderson, A. Philip Randolph: A Biographical Portrait (1973; University of California Press, 1986).
Paula Pfeffer, A. Philip Randolph, Pioneer of the Civil Rights Movement (1990; Louisiana State University Press, 1996).
Andrew E. Kersten, A. Philip Randolph: A Life in the Vanguard (Rowan and Littlefield, 2006).
Cynthia Taylor, A. Philip Randolph: The Religious Journey of An African American Labor Leader (NYU Press, 2006).
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A Novel by Jesmyn Ward
On one level, Salvage the Bones is a simple story about a poor black family thats about to be trashed by one of the most deadly hurricanes in U.S. history. What makes the novel so powerful, though, is the way Ward winds private passions with that menace gathering force out in the Gulf of Mexico. Without a hint of pretension, in the simple lives of these poor people living among chickens and abandoned cars, she evokes the tenacious love and desperation of classical tragedy. The force that pushes back against Katrinas inexorable winds is the voice of Wards narrator, a 14-year-old girl named Esch, the only daughter among four siblings. Precocious, passionate and sensitive, she speaks almost entirely in phrases soaked in her familys raw land. Everything here is gritty, loamy and alive, as though the very soil were animated. Her brothers blood smells like wet hot earth after summer rain. . . . His scalp looks like fresh turned dirt. Her fathers hands are like gravel, while her own hand slides through his grip like a wet fish, and a handsome boys muscles jabbered like chickens. Admittedly, Ward can push so hard on this simile-obsessed style that her paragraphs risk sounding like a compost heap, but this isnt usually just metaphor for metaphors sake. She conveys something fundamental about Eschs fluid state of mind: her figurative sense of the world in which all things correspond and connect. She and her brothers live in a ramshackle house steeped in grief since their mother died giving birth to her last child. . . . What remains, whats salvaged, is something indomitable in these tough siblings, the strength of their love, the permanence of their devotion.
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By Melissa V. Harris-Perry
According to the author, this society has historically exerted considerable pressure on black females to fit into one of a handful of stereotypes, primarily, the Mammy, the Matriarch or the Jezebel. The selfless Mammys behavior is marked by a slavish devotion to white folks domestic concerns, often at the expense of those of her own familys needs. By contrast, the relatively-hedonistic Jezebel is a sexually-insatiable temptress. And the Matriarch is generally thought of as an emasculating figure who denigrates black men, ala the characters Sapphire and Aunt Esther on the television shows Amos and Andy and Sanford and Son, respectively.
Professor Perry points out how the propagation of these harmful myths have served the mainstream culture well. For instance, the Mammy suggests that it is almost second nature for black females to feel a maternal instinct towards Caucasian babies.
As for the source of the Jezebel, black women had no control over their own bodies during slavery given that they were being auctioned off and bred to maximize profits. Nonetheless, it was in the interest of plantation owners to propagate the lie that sisters were sluts inclined to mate indiscriminately.
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From The World and Africa, 1965
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updated 11 July 2008