ChickenBones: A Journal
for Literary & Artistic African-American Themes
Civilian police have not been restrained in their oppression of Negro soldiers.
A Negro sergeant was shot dead by a policeman as he lay helpless on the sidewalk
in an Arkansas town. Another soldier was killed in cold blood by a Baltimore
policeman. City and State police in Alexandria, La., by a statement of the War
Department itself, shot and wounded more than a dozen Negro soldiers in
a one-sided battle early in 1942.
The Color Line and the War
By Roy Wilkins
One of the important questions in this war is the amount of democracy which shall be given the colored races of the world. The whole subject of race and color has been pushed to the forefront by the master race theory of the Hitler regime. Later the attack at Pearl Harbor by the Japanese brought more sharply to the front the color question. The United Nations, of course, have declared for full democracy for all. We have formulated the Atlantic Charter and Mr. Roosevelt has enunciated the Four Freedoms. Mr. Churchill has said that the Atlantic Charter does not apply to colonial peoples. This is the most forthright declaration on the limitations of democracy that has been made since by any United Nations spokesman. However, while America has not openly declared for any limitation based upon race or color, it has been indicated by its treatment of the minority of Negro citizens in his country that it could be for limitations based upon race and color.
American Negroes, on this crucial, world-wide, wartime question constitute, once more the acid test of democracy. Americas racial policy, all the arguments to the contrary notwithstanding, is not merely a local or national affair. It has become, almost overnight, the measure of our prestige and influence with hundreds of millions of colored people all over the globe; and a yard stick by which to gauge our sincerity in carrying out stated or implied war aims.
The Japanese have as their great goal the control of all nations and peoples in the Far East. One of her primary arguments is that the colored nations in the East can not expect to receive justice and equality from the white nations of the West. In advancing this argument they cite Americas treatment of its 13,000,000 citizens of African descent. They assert that colored people of the Far East ought to desert the Western democracies and throw in their lot with Japan because America and other Western nations exhibit contempt and brutality for people who are not white.
Unfortunately the American record has furnished excellent propaganda for the Japanese. Even in the midst of a war for democracy our Negro citizens have had to fight for a chance to contribute their full manpower and talent to the winning of the war.
Production for Victory
Before our actual entry into the war the great problem was production of the goods needed by the nations who were fighting Hitler. Every citizen was urged to man the production line and help defeat the Axis. Our giant corporations were expanding overnight, producing both for foreign governments and for our expanded training programs, our increased army and navy, and our merchant marine.
But the Negroes found, when they applied for jobs, that openings were mostly on the menial and unskilled levels. The situation became so critical that President Roosevelt, on June 25, 1941, issued his now well known executive order 8802 prohibiting discrimination because of race, color, religion, or national origin, in employment in war industries and government agencies.
As of today it may be said that there has been considerable, even remarkable, improvement in the employment of Negroes since the summer of 1941. Part of this has been the result of 8802 and the activity of the Committee on Fair Employment Practice created by shortage of manpower.
Almost every section of the aircraft industry, the one which held out most stubbornly against him at first, is now employing the Negro. Some plants have taken the action cheerfully and have hired numbers of colored people.
Others have done so reluctantly, and a few, notably those located in Free Kansas, are still refusing the Negro. Lockheed, Douglas, Vultee, Boeing, Consolidated, North American, Bell, Curtiss-Wright, Martin, United Aircraft (Pratt & Whitney), Republic and Gruman now have Negro employees. Boeing, maker of the Flying Fortress, has worker unions, holding a closed shop contract, still refuses to admit Negro members.
Many of those concerns are finding that the Negro worker, both men and women, are giving excellent service, even highly technical performances.
Employment has increased in the private shipyards all over the nation. It has always been fair in navy yards. Keeping pace with the aircraft and shipbuilding, numerous private corporations engaged in war production are increasing their numbers of Negro employees. The picture is not entirely rosy. Numbers of these concerns employ far few colored workers in proportion to their total roster. The prime compliant today is that the Negroes are having difficulty in being upgraded from the lower paid categories.
The Armed Services
The struggle for jobs, however, did not contain the drama incident to the treatment of Negroes in the armed services. Negroes have been accustomed to varying degrees of discrimination and insult in civilian life. They knew some of that would follow their men into the army, but they were not prepared for the succession of restrictions, beatings, shootings, and general man-handling received by black men in uniform, fighting supposedly for the Four Freedoms.
Greatest complaint has risen because of the treatment of men in Southern communities near army camps. Civilian police have not been restrained in their oppression of Negro soldiers. A Negro sergeant was shot dead by a policeman as he lay helpless on the sidewalk in an Arkansas town. Another soldier was killed in cold blood by a Baltimore policeman. City and State police in Alexandria, La., by a statement of the War Department itself, shot and wounded more than a dozen Negro soldiers in a one-sided battle early in 1942. Dozens of Negroes in uniform have been dragged off buses, and some have been shot.
Military police have done their share toward creating bitterness and unrest in both the Negro civilian and army circles.
White Americans troops overseas have taken color prejudice along with them and have attempted to set up Dixie practices wherever they settle down. Complaints have come back from Negro soldiers in Australia–not against Australians, but against their white fellow soldiers from America. Affairs reached such a state in England last fall that the War Department sent Brigadier General Benjamin O. Davis* of the Inspector Generals office to investigate the charges of friction between white and colored American troops in the British Isles.
An amusing story is being told just now about a conference of American officials, including some high army soldiers, in North Africa on the question of entertainment for the soldiers. When a prominent American Negro entertainer was mentioned, the American whites objected for the reason that she was colored. Whereupon a very wealthy and influential native of the area whose cooperation was absolutely necessary to the Americans, arose and stalked out of the room after announcing with pride that one of his maternal relatives was a full blooded Negro. Figuratively the Americans had to get on their knees to heal the breach created by their typical prejudice as usual-at home and abroad.
The whole picture is not dismal, although, to be truthful, the signs of progress are few and far between. The army trained Negro and white men in the same officer-candidate schools without segregation. This has been a most significant step forward and great benefit should result from it. We are still the only nation with dark citizens or subjects having so many Negro officers in our army. It is true that the vast number are junior officers and that promotions beyond first lieutenant (as line officers) are rare as yet. But we have hundreds upon hundreds of competent Negro officers.
Here and there are fair and just commanding officers who try to see that their colored outfits get the treatment due them as men and soldiers. There are rumored to be men within the War Department itself who would not shudder and die at the genuine democracy in mixing races in the same units, and would not have apoplexy if a Negro officer were placed in command of white troops.
The employment picture is brighter, as has been noted. This holds some promise for the post war period, although everyone realizes that all Negroes now employed will not be able to retain their jobs.
The chief gain seems to be in the examination and discussion of this old, difficult problem of color and the democratic theory. Millions of people who never much thought about it are having to think about whether we can have a stable democratic world and still maintain inequality and proscription based on color. There are signs that more and more of the people are coming to the belief that we must wipe out racial inequalities if we are to have peace in the little world we shall have after this war. Unhappily, there are few signs that the directors of the mighty forces that have stood adamant for the status quo, have come to this view in any great number.
The continuing task, therefore, for those whose in church, labor and liberal-minded peoples of the earth is to remain alert, critical, and vocal; and to attempt to coordinate their efforts toward the desired end. The wiping out of inequalities based upon color and race is not by any means the only problem, but it is certainly the most obvious and dramatic.
*General Benjamin O. Davis was born in Washington, D. C. on Dec. 18, 1912 and went to college at West Point in 1932. Davis became one of only two black line-officers in the United States Army when he was promoted to brigadier general.
Source: Interracial Review, May 1943
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Roy Wilkins (August 30, 1901 September 8, 1981) was a prominent civil rights activist in the United States from the 1930s to the 1970s. Wilkins’ most notable role was in his leadership of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP). Born in St. Louis, Missouri, Wilkins graduated from the University of Minnesota with a degree in sociology in 1923. He worked as a journalist at The Minnesota Daily and became editor of St. Paul Appeal, an African-American newspaper. After he graduated he became the editor of the The Call (Kansas City). In 1929, he married social worker Aminda “Minnie” Badeau; the couple had no children.
Between 1931 and 1934, Wilkins was assistant NAACP secretary under Walter Francis White. When W. E. B. Du Bois left the organization in 1934, he replaced him as editor of The Crisis, the official magazine of the NAACP. From 194950 Wilkins chaired the National Emergency Civil Rights Mobilization, which comprised more than 100 local and national groups. In 1950, Wilkinsalong with A. Philip Randolph, founder of the Brotherhood of Sleeping Car Porters, and Arnold Aronson, a leader of the National Jewish Community Relations Advisory Councilfounded the Leadership Conference on Civil Rights (LCCR). LCCR has become the premier civil rights coalition, and has coordinated the national legislative campaign on behalf of every major civil rights law since 1957.
In 1955, Roy Wilkins was chosen to be the executive secretary of the NAACP and in 1964 he became its executive director.
He had an excellent reputation as an articulate spokesperson for the civil rights movement. One of his first actions was to provide support to civil rights activists in Mississippi who were being subject to a “credit squeeze” by members of the White Citizens Councils.
Under the plan, black businesses and voluntary associations shifted their accounts to the black-owned Tri-State Bank of Memphis, Tennessee. By the end of 1955, about $280,000 had been deposited in Tri-State for this purpose. The money enabled Tri-State to extend loans to credit-worthy blacks who were denied loans by white banks. Wilkins participated in the March on Washington (August 1963) which he helped organize, the Selma to Montgomery marches (1965), and the March Against Fear (1966). . . . In 1951, J. Edgar Hoover and the state department, in collusion with the NAACP and Wilkins (then editor of The Crisis, the official magazine of the NAACP), arranged for a ghost-written leaflet to be printed and distributed in Africa. The purpose of the leaflet was to spread negative press and views about the Black political radical and entertainer Paul Robeson throughout Africa. . . .
Gil Scott-Heron mentioned Wilkins in his most famous spoken word song “The Revolution Will Not Be Televised” with this lyric: “There will be no slow motion or still life of Roy Wilkins strolling through Watts in a red, black and green liberation jumpsuit that he has been saving for just the proper occasion.”
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By Roy Wilkins and Tom Mathews
History will remember Roy Wilkins (19011981) as one of the great leaders of the twentieth century for his contributions to the advancement of civil rights in America. For nearly half a centuryfirst as assistant secretary, also succeeding W. E. B. Dubois as editor of The Crisis, and finally succeeding Walter White as executive directorRoy Wilkins served and led the N.A.A.C.P. in their fight for justice for African Americans. Wilkins was a relentless pragmatist who advocated progressive change through legal action. He participated or led in the achievement of every major civil rights advance, working for the integration of the army, helping to plan and organize the historic march on Washington, and pushing every president from Franklin Roosevelt to Jimmy Carter to implement civil rights legislation. This is a dramatic story of one man’s struggle for his people’s rights, as well as a vivid recollection of the events and the people that have shaped modern black history.Da Capo Press
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By John Lewis
The Civil Rights Movement gave rise to the protest culture we know today, and the experiences of leaders like Congressman Lewis have never been more relevant. Now, more than ever, this nation needs a strong and moral voice to guide an engaged population through visionary change. Congressman John Lewis was a leader in the American Civil Rights Movement. He was chairman of the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee (SNCC) and played a key role in the struggle to end segregation. Despite more than forty arrests, physical attacks, and serious injuries, John Lewis remained a devoted advocate of the philosophy of nonviolence. He is the author of his autobiography, Walking with the Wind: A Memoir of a Movement, and is the recipient of numerous awards from national and international institutions, including the Lincoln Medal; the John F. Kennedy Profile in Courage Lifetime Achievement Award (the only one of its kind ever awarded); the NAACP Spingarn Medal; and the Presidential Medal of Freedom, the highest civilian honor, among many others.
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By C. Fraser Smith
Though he lived throughout much of the Southand even worked his way into parts of the North for a timeJim Crow was conceived and buried in Maryland. From Chief Justice Roger Brooke Taney’s infamous decision in the Dred Scott case to Thurgood Marshall’s eloquent and effective work on Brown v. Board of Education, the battle for black equality is very much the story of Free State women and men. Here, Baltimore Sun columnist C. Fraser Smith recounts that tale through the stories, words, and deeds of famous, infamous, and little-known Marylanders. He traces the roots of Jim Crow laws from Dred Scott to Plessy v. Ferguson and describes the parallel and opposite early efforts of those who struggled to establish freedom and basic rights for African Americans.
Following the historical trail of evidence, Smith relates latter-day examples of Maryland residents who trod those same steps, from the thrice-failed attempt to deny black people the vote in the early twentieth century to nascent demonstrations for open access to lunch counters, movie theaters, stores, golf courses, and other public and private institutionsstruggles that occurred decades before the now-celebrated historical figures strode onto the national civil rights scene.
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From The World and Africa, 1965
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update 26 May 2012