Lecture 12. Depression and Double V (continued)


In the last lecture I set
the terms for the week’s discussion, those being
retrenchment and political advancement.  I wanted
to make clear on Monday’s lecture that the Scottsboro
Boys and the Black Cabinet represent two ends of a
spectrum of political possibilities of black
America in the 1930s.  They are together
articulating a new voice, a new vehicle to
communicate responses to and articulations of
possibilities, but coming from very
different places in very different ways.  The
Scottsboro Boys reaches back to a past of social
control, certainly, but also representing in
the Scottsboro Boys case, in the way the Communist
Party gets involved, that there’s a new mentality
at work in black America, and new values
in–or being seen–the, the, the accused being
seen as commodities on a political battlefield. 
And the Black Cabinet represented the best
possible world of new political insiderism
at the national level, in a different way
than the Scottsboro Boys, serving as important symbols
of blacks’ centrality to the political realm.  Now I
wanted to continue the discussion along those
lines and to–these–I’m sorry–these are the themes
for this week.  I want to continue the discussion
along these lines, but focusing upon the
National Negro Congress, the Marian Anderson
Easter Sunday Concert, and the March on Washington
movement.  This–the events for this lecture are
essentially the second half of the 1930s.  But it’s
important to realize, the things I was talking
about in Monday’s lecture are overlapping, many of
the events I’m talking about today.  These are all
happening in the course of the decade, but certainly at
some point all happening at the same time.  Let me start
with the National Negro Congress.  The National
Negro Congress–for some reason, this is a lecture I
wrote down a lot of notes for you guys, and I’m not
sure really why.  Maybe I was being generous.  I
don’t know.  Anyway, the National Negro Congress
has its start in the National Industrial League. It forms in 1933.  This is a
response to the development of, well, Franklin
Roosevelt’s New Deal and agencies like the
National Recovery–well, an early incarnation, the
National Industrial Recovery Act, and how this
organization was not going to care about setting wage,
setting minimum wages for agricultural workers or for
domestic workers.  And two men get together, Robert C. Weaver and John P. Davis, and start–black men,
and start testifying before Congress, before
the Senate, saying, you know, “This
is an abomination. You’re completely
wri–writing out or, or disregarding those areas
that have the most important or significant black
involvement.”  The Negro Industrial League is
a two-man operation, but they fashion themselves
as an umbrella group representing black interests
across the country.  It–It exists pretty much only in
passing.  Now the important part of it is that Robert C. Weaver is seen as
doing such a great job, having recent–recently
received his J.D. from Harvard, he gets
incorporated into the federal government, and is
one of the very first race advisors.  So that’s
where the Nation–the Negro Industrial League is
important for bringing in one of its own into the
federal bureaucracy.  The other person, John P. Davis, remains an outsider,
and we’ll be spending more time on Davis’s activities
in the course of this lecture.  Davis organizes,
in the wake of the Negro Industrial
League’s collapse, the Joint Committee for
National Recovery.  It lasts only for two
years.  It, too, fashions itself as an
umbrella organization representing blacks’ needs
from across the country.  Now this is a
self-representation. I mean these were not, you
do not–You do not have all sorts of
black-run organizations, running to John P. Davis and the Joint
Committee for National Recovery, which is
essentially him and an office and a couple
of figurehead people.  Davis–well they
aren’t running to Davis, because one, this is a new
kid on the block basically.  They’re still looking
at organizations like, you know, churches,
business associations, the NAACP, for example,
but the Joint Committee for National Recovery does at
least one important thing before it collapses, and it
organizes a conference at Howard University.  And
this is a conference that is dedicated to trying to
understand the economic plight of African Americans
during the Great Depression and the New Deal.  Now
it’s just a conference, but it brings–but it’s
remarkable that it brings together people from a
wide range of political backgrounds.  It brings
together labor organizers, agricultural
workers, domestic workers, you know, people who are
doing work on the ground.  It brings together
intellectuals like W. E. B. Du Bois, who’s becoming a
Marxist and talking economic cooperatives
along race lines, something actually in
some ways looking similar to Booker T. Washington’s ideologies.  It
brings together leaders of the Communist Party,
the Workers’ Party, the Socialist Party.  It
brings together people from the federal
government, like Robert C. Weaver now, all asking the
question: what is the status of the Negro in, in the
New Deal?  And the result of this conference was–well,
many things came out of it.  One, scathing attack on
the New Deal for the way it ignored blacks’
conditions on the ground, in ways I outlined briefly
on Monday.  It launched an investigation into communist
activities at Howard University, Howard
University then essentially being funded by the
federal government, and essentially now
still receiving most of its support from the
federal government.  An investigation was
launched into the communist activities at Howard,
and certainly there were communists on the faculty
at Howard and certainly socialists as well,
and certainly a lot of sympathizers.  So there was
an attempt to silence and actually shut down the
university as a result of this conference. 
And most importantly, it establishes a group
called the National Negro Congress.  I forgot
that slide.  Okay, those are the notes for
what I just told you.  The National Negro Congress
actually does turn into that kind of umbrella
organization that the Negro Industrial League and the
Joint Committee for National Recovery all aspired to be. 
The National Negro Congress forms out of a call, I
mean the Howard University Conference, “We
need to organize a, a national
political action group, and it becomes the
National Negro Congress, formed in 1936.  The
congress convenes for the first time in
Chicago in ’36, where it’s met where–with
police harassment, due to alleged communistic,
communist participation.  A. Philip Randolph, who
we’ll be talking about more towards the end
of the lecture, but for now, just to know
the most important–Bless you.  The most important labor
leader in black America, is elected its first
president.  And the National Negro Congress
establishes–sorry, I’m all off on my slides
here today.  Excuse me.  It establishes a slate that’s
concerning civil rights, women’s rights,
labor’s rights, aid to farmers and
sharecroppers.  It calls for an anti-lynching law; it
calls for voting rights, educational opportunities,
social and unemployment insurance, and opposition
to war and fascism.  Civil rights, women’s
rights, labor’s rights, aid to farmers
and sharecroppers, anti-lynching
law, voting rights, education opportunities,
social un–and unemployment insurance and an oppression
to war and fascism.  If you think back to a few
weeks earlier in the course, a large part of this slate
that the National Negro Congress calls for is
identical to the slate, to the manifesto, that the
Niagara Movement calls for some thirty years earlier,
not quite thirty years.  The point is, a lot of the
issues haven’t changed, despite some real
changes in those thirty, thirty-one years, excuse
me.  Now the National Negro Congress was not just made
up of black folks getting together calling for a slate
of a progressive future.  It is, as the slide
up here indicates, a cross section of black
groups and white labor, of all different kinds
of groups as far as black business bureaus,
black churches, black labor organizations. 
The congress actively courts white labor in this regard,
especially the Congress of Industrial Organization, and
it sets out this agenda for change on the
ground.  It has, more than anything
else, a labor orientation, despite even business groups
being involved.  It’s going to change things on the
ground.  And the person organizing–sort of–A. Philip Randolph
is the president, but the person doing the
work on a day-to-day basis is John P. Davis.  He was there at
the Negro Industrial League, there at the Joint Committee
for National Recovery, and he’s really running the
National Negro Congress.  And he runs it for
the length of the NNC’s existence, which is not
quite a decade.  Now one of the first things the
Congress does successfully, aside from just meeting, is
establish a Southern Negro Youth Congress, essentially
the youth arm of the Congress.  The Southern
Negro Youth Con–Congress had its inaugural conference
half a year late in February, 1937 in
Richmond, Virginia, and it makes its
headquarters there for a number of years.  With the
guidance of the Southern Negro Youth
Conference leaders, it becomes a permanent
organization and almost immediately organizes five
thousand tobacco workers into the Tobacco Stemmers
and Laborers Industrial union.  Very soon after, an
SNYC leads a sit-down strike in–at a Virginia Tobacco
Company and garn–and, and gets wage increases
of twenty to thirty-three percent.  This is
remarkable.  The Southern Negro Youth
Congress, these are, these are people your age
and a little bit older, going down to
Richmond, Virginia, the heart of
the Confederacy, and organizing black workers
into a union and getting wages–wage increases for
them.  It’s nothing really short of
astonishing.  By 1939, when the third annual
conference of the SNYC gathers in Birm–gathers,
they meet in Birmingham, Alabama.  Over six
hundred delegates are in attendance.  It’s the
largest conference to date.  The themes of the conference
revolved around citizenship, equal opportunity,
and black culture. These are themes that by now
must be familiar to all of you.  I’ve been talking
about it during this course, after all.  Again, themes
from the Niagara Movement, but in this case
with the students, a different type of cultural
emphasis.  I think a hangover, in a sense, from
the Harlem Renaissance.  But the Southern Negro Youth
Congress was not another middle-class black
venture.  I’m thinking, too, that’s sort of the
cultural producers of the Renaissance.  It espoused
a democratic socialist vision.  It was militantly
interracial.  It offered its full support to the Congress
Industrial Organization, that breakaway set of
labor unions that actually welcomed black workers. And, this is the
most important part, it’s very quietly
Communist.  The Southern Negro Youth Congress
moves its headquarters from Richmond down to Birmingham
and establishes a watchdog presence in the Deep South. 
It wages suffrage campaigns, you know, trying to
get people to vote, anti-poll tax campaigns. 
It tries to fight against police brutality.  Now
the Southern Negro Youth Congress is important
because of its Communist involvement, certainly, but
also because you can see it as a preface to the
civil rights activities that defined Birmingham
some twenty years later, and that as
we’ll see next week, you start seeing a lot of
these kinds of activities in other places
throughout the South, through other
organizations.  Now I’ll ex–expand upon
this point later on. It’s very important. 
The Southern Negro Youth Congress is but one
example that forces, if you think about it,
forces a re-periodization of the Civil Rights Movement. 
I’ll leave that alone there for a moment.  Well, the
SNYC begins to fade as we get into the 1940s.  Its
male leaders go off to fight; its female leaders
do not remain youthful.  I mean, neither do
the men of course, but the women are still
at home.  It’s no longer a “youth congress.” 
They’re not regenerating themselves.  And the
whispering about its linkage to the Communist Party
really prevents it from becoming a major political
force after the Soviet-Nazi pact in 1939, when the
Soviet–when Hitler and Stalin get together, saying,
“We won’t fight against each other,” which alienates
a lot of people who were supporting the Communist
Party in the United States. Meanwhile, back in
the National Negro Congress, I’ll roll back the clock
a few years.  Randolph, A. Phil–A. Philip Randolph,
he’s the president, is hearing more whispering
about Communist involvement in the National
Negro Congress, and he’s not happy about
it.  He fights–he denies it at first, goes,
“No, we are, you know, we are an independent
organization.  Even though we’ve modeled ourselves,
modeled ourselves after Communist ideologies as
far as developing a Popular Front of all people from
different kinds of places coming together to
fight towards one goal, we are not Communists.”  But
then it becomes clear that Communists have infiltrated
the National Negro Congress, mainly through the Congress
of Industrial Organization.  So white labor organizers,
Randolph concludes, are bringing Communism
into this organization, and he wants no
part of it.  Randolph, after denying
it for a while, goes to the national
convention in 1940 where he’s going to stand up
in front of the Congress, the National Negro
Congress and resign, and resign with fire,
talking about how the Communists do not have our
best interests at heart.  He’s basically
booed off the stage. I mean, the Communists are
now taking control of the Negro Congress.  And John P. Davis, where is he
through all of this?  Well, he’s–he’s a
Communist actually.  And so, you know, he’s caught in
a rock and a hard place, but sides with the
Congress.  And that’s where he, that’s where he
continues to reside for a handful more years. 
Now that’s in 1940, and Randolph’s about to
go off and start something quite different in response
to his departure from the Nation–National Negro
Congress.  And we’ll get to that towards the end of the
lecture.  While all of this is going on–all of this
meaning the National Negro Congress becoming organized,
having its conferences, turning more towards
Communism and then Randolph breaking from it–you have a
series of events happening on the cultural front,
cultural and political front, that sort of
galvanizes black opinion and leads to a new set of
political possibilities, and that’s the Marian
Anderson Easter Sunday concert in 1939. 
Marian Anderson, black woman, regarded as
one of the world’s greatest living contraltos. 
She’s–she sings opera.  Her case is well-known,
partly for her international stature, partly for the
other high-profile whites who are involved in it,
and partly for the symbolic significance attached to the
controversy.  Let me give you the history behind
it, and the controversy, and explain its
significance.  Howard University School of
Music had regularly been scheduling Marian
Anders–Marian Anderson to come back from Europe. 
She was born in the U.S. but couldn’t establish a
career in the U.S.  She goes off to Europe and
becomes a fan–a, a superstar in Europe. 
But Howard School of Music starts–is schedule–as her
star is rising in Europe, is scheduling her to
come back to the U.S. to give conf–concerts, and
they’ve been on campus.  As her popularity rises, they
can’t house her on campus any more, and
in 1936 and ’37, the Howard concert had been
moved to a local black high school auditorium.  By 1938,
Marian Anderson’s fees are such, and the
demand is such, they need a larger venue in
order to spon–to hold the concert.  They went into the
black commercial district, which is right
next to Howard, went to a theater that was
bigger than the black high school
auditorium, had it there. In 1939, the
fees are greater, the demand is greater. 
Where are we going to have a concert?  The School of
Music goes to the Daughters of the American Revolution,
the DAR.  The Daughters of the American Revolution,
a social political organization–I think more
social in this moment until it becomes politicized–of
women who can date back their lineage to people who
fought in the Revolutionary War.  At that time and
really only until the last ten or fifteen years, a very
white organization and very conservative organization. 
And they manage Constitution Hall, which is the largest
venue in the city.  It’s still there today.  Well,
they go to the Daughters of the American Revolution,
the School of Music does, “We’d like to have Marian
Anderson performing in, in Constitution Hall.  Would
you let her sing there?”  Now the DAR maintained a
strictly segregated policy.  Now in D.C. theaters, it was quite
common to have segregated audiences.  If
blacks were allowed in, they’d only be allowed up in
the balcony.  You could have blacks on stage always,
because they “dance so well, they “sing so beautifully”
as the stereotype goes.  But DAR was different: no blacks
in the audience period, and no blacks on stage.  It
was an all-white venue all the time.  The Howard
University School of Music, rebuffed by this, goes to
a local white high school, which has a much larger
auditorium than the black high school that had been
used before and the Rialto, and it’s rebuffed
again.  Black leaders in the District then form the
Marian Anderson Citizens Committee to fight these
decisions.  It’s a coalition of local clergy, teachers,
civic and fraternal organizations, trying to
basically knock down these doors.  Behind the
scenes, however, a man named Charles Houston,
a lawyer at this point for the NAACP–he’s the first
general counsel.  He had been brought to Howard a
decade earlier to reorganize its law school and starts
teaching the first civil rights law
classes in the country, the law school does. 
Charles Houston gets involved behind the scenes,
as well as the NAACP.  They start organizing
mass meetings, letters of support start
being sent in to these different organizations,
and they’re focusing on the white high school.  They go
to–They’re going to the, the Board of Education. The Board of
Education says, “Okay, we’ll, we’ll come to a
compromise on this.  We will allow Marian Anderson to
perform at the white high school, Central High. We’ll let it be integrated. 
But this will be a one-time event and you may
not use this”–you, the citizens
organizing the committee, and quietly, Charles
Houston–“you may not use this as a precedent from
challenging separate but equal educational systems in
the District of Columbia.”  Well, the fact is, that’s
what Houston was trying to do the whole time,
once he got involved, because this is a great way
to break down the color line in the school system,
using Marian Anderson as a symbolic vehicle.  It’s a
compromise the protestors refused–refused to accept
and the School of Board called their bluff
[laughs]–the Board of Education called their
bluff.  So the NAACP and Charles Houston go to the
White House.  They go to the White House via
Mary McLeod Bethune, talked about on Monday,
who gets them to have an audience with
Eleanor Roosevelt; Eleanor Roosevelt
who’s a member of the DAR, incredibly popular
syndicated-syndicated columnist.  Approaches
the DAR and they tell her, “No, we’re not
breaking this policy, and she resigns in protest
and writes a very famous column about this, and her
embarrassment for the DAR.  Eleanor Roosevelt
talks to Harold Ickes, Secretary of the
Interior, himself, like Eleanor Roosevelt,
considered a “friend of the race,” as what the phrase
was at the time.  Harold Ickes steps in and arranges
a concert on Easter Sunday in 1939 for Marian Anderson
at the Lincoln Memorial.  As the Secretary
of the Interior, he, he, he controlled the
federal land and controlled what happened on the
National Mall.  On the day in question, Ickes steps
up to the microphone and introduces Marian Anderson. 
One prominent journal remarked after
the fact that, I’m quoting here, “The
brevity and force of his speech was destined to
rival Lincoln’s Gettysburg Address.”  Now whether
that’s true or not is a–well I don’t think
we remember this speech, so it didn’t really rival
the Gettysburg Address.  But it is short and it is
powerful.  This is what he says here, one excerpt
of what he says: “Genius, like justice, is
blind.  For Genius, with the tip of her wings,
has touched this woman, who, if it had not been for
the great mind of Jefferson, if it had not been for
the great heart of Lincoln, would not be able to stand
among us today as a free individual in a
free land.  Genius. Genius draws no color line.” You start hearing a plane
flying overhead there.  It was something of a
circus atmosphere.  He says, “Genius, like justice,
is blind.  For Genius has touched with the tip of
her wings this woman, who, if it had not been for
the great mind of Jefferson, if it had not been for
the great heart of Lincoln, would not be able to stand
among us today as a free individual in a
free land.  Genius. Genius draws no color line.” It’s a powerful statement
coming from a representative of the federal government. 
Now four hours before Ickes steps to the microphone,
four hours before the concert begins, people start
arriving at the National Mall and the Lincoln
Memorial.  And what they find there is really
quite remarkable.  D.C. is a very segregated city
during this era.  What they find is an absence, an
absence of “colored only” sections, an
absence of, you know, “White section.  No colored
allowed.”  Seventy-five thousand people
crowd the Mall, and it may not sound like a
dramatic number to you in our day of, you know,
millions showing up at the Mall, but this is historic. 
And it’s also opera, which is not known as
the people’s music, right?  Seventy-five
thousand people crowd the Mall to hear
Anderson’s performance, and an untold number
of people listen to the performance on radio
around the country, aired live.  Planes are
circling overhead trying to understand the scene that’s
going on there.  This is a famous image:
Marian Anderson, long fur coat, singing
just with piano accompanying her.  Steps up to the
microphone and in a powerful yet dignified
rebuke to the DAR, Anderson simply
begins her concert in this way:(singing) “My
country, ’tis of thee, Sweet land of
liberty, of thee I sing; She sounded a
bit like that, maybe a bit
better.  Eloquent, powerful, subtle,
undeniable.  She is in this moment claiming the country
as much–It belongs as much to her as it belongs to the
Daughters of the American Revolution.  Everybody there
got it.  She didn’t have to say, you know, “I’m so
glad to be here today.  It’s lovely.  You know, D.C., how
are you?”  You didn’t have to do that kind of
stuff; simply declared, “This is my country
too.”  And in fact, as an aside, it’s–the
inauguration of Barack Obama, something, I don’t
know if I’ll talk about it or not at the
end of the class, but when Aretha Franklin
stands up to sing “My Country, ‘Tis of
Thee”–she, I mean, it’s a, culturally a very
dense inauguration.  I mean, all inaugurations are
rich with symbolism, but this one was rather
remarkable.  She was singing “My Country, ‘Tis
of Thee,” for the, you know, that people would
get it in the audience, but there’s a whole other
level of understanding for those people who know
this story and what Marian Anderson did with this
particular exhortation.  And I, I’ve heard, if you
watched the HBO special the day before the inauguration,
they explained some of this.  I didn’t see it; but,
and many people didn’t.  The significance of Aretha
Franklin’s performance of that particular song
was lost on many folks, but it was a reckoning
back to this moment.  The moment’s important,
not just because, you know, it’s a classy
way of being a civil rights protestor, but it’s
important for these different reasons.  With
Eleanor Roosevelt and Harold Ickes giving their very
public support to the, the Citizens Committee
for Marian Anderson, and for the right for
her to sing at the DAR, it suggests to African
Americans that the federal government, at
the highest levels, in the White House, “really
does care about us.”  They’d been working on the Black
Cabinet.  That’s–They’ve been going out and
changing things. We’re now as a group
beginning to vote for Democrats anyway,
through–because of FDR.  And now the First Lady,
the Secretary of Interior, are saying, “Genius draws
no color line.”  Of course, it’s the symbolism wrapped
up in performing under the protective gaze of
the Great Emancipator. That’s not lost on anybody
either.  But it’s also felt on the very local level in
ways that’s lost to history often. When I was
working on my first book, my dissertation in fact, I
was interviewing a longtime D.C. resident.  He was then about
eighty years old.  And we were just talking
about this era, you know, in
Washington, D.C., and, and what it meant to be
black and struggle with the color line.  And
this concert comes up, and he said something I’ve
never forgotten.  And he says, this is a quote, it’s
burned into my brain: “After that
concert”–and he was there, I should say. 
“After that concert, everything looked different
in America as far as blacks were concerned.” 
“After that concert, everything looked different
in America as far as blacks were concerned.”    Now
he’s not talking literally, because the day after
Marian Anderson sang, it wasn’t like if
you were black, you could go into a local
restaurant that’s not in the black section of town,
or at Union Station, the only other place
blacks could go for a public restaurant.  You couldn’t go
in someplace else and get a meal.  You all of a sudden
couldn’t get a job that was denied to you, you know, the
week before.  So in terms of literal bread
and butter issues, there’s no change.  But
at the level of symbolic possibilities, at the
level of what blacks can articulate and think
as maybe achievable, fundamental change happens
with this concert.  Now it’s also important because the
public outcry surrounding Marian Anderson’s concert is
happening in the context of a larger battle of a war or
rhetoric against the Nazi doctrines of racial
supremacy.  So you can’t just understand this concert
in the context of an event that happened in
Washington, D.C., or an event that happened in
the U.S.  It’s an event that has global ramifications,
especially for the way in which the U.S. federal government is
struggling against a war of words with Nazi and–Nazi
and fascist regimes.  “The U.S. didn’t have a
leg to stand on, the Nazis would say,
“because they’re just as racist as we are.”  This is
very important for the U.S. as it really does enter
the Second World War and continues on
through the Cold War, something I’ll touch
down upon once or twice, I’m sure, in this
course.  As the U.S. becomes an
international power, which is this
part of the story, the 1920s and thirties
and forties especially, its domestic politics
become scrutinized much more closely.  World War II,
which we’re on the cusp of getting involved in, is a
war to stop the spread of fascism, but if the U.S. can’t handle its own
fascistic tendencies internal, it’s a war of
hypocrisy.  So you start seeing there, in
the Scottsboro Boys, reaching back to Monday,
and the way they use it as cultural markers
for the Communists, Marian Anderson being
used as a cultural marker of democratic possibilities,
blacks being used as cultural markers of
political possibilities, of what this country
is supposed to be for everybody, and what the
country’s supposed to be for African Americans, and what
the country’s supposed to be for the world.  Now
this affords–oh, one other, this is a
very famous image, of course, of Marian
Anderson.  There’s another image that I show up here
just for the sake of a, a quick side lesson on how
you read images.  There’s a way in which, you
know, we–we are, in our minds’ eye, we are
here sitting just below her right shoulder, and we see
dignitaries at the micro–at the, at the stand.  This
image I dug up tells a very different story.  Except
for–I’ll use the mouse here–except for
this area here, which is cordoned off for
reasons I honestly don’t know,
everything else you see, except for that tree
line, going off to, beyond the
Reflecting Pool, are people, sitting there in an
integrated audience, seventy-five thousand
people.  It just sort of gives you a different sense
of the way this might have felt if you were actually
there.  And because it’s harder to make out
Marian Anderson, I’m as–I’m assuming that’s
why this is not one of the more famous iconic
pictures.  You just, here’s just somebody’s
back standing in front of an audience.  But it really was
quite a visual spectacle, and I think offers ways for
you to think about how you read images, for instance,
perspective being very important.  Now I was
talking before the little caveat, I was talking about
political symbolism and the roles and the ways in
which African Americans were political footballs.  And
then I wanted to transition to a story that helps us
understand how blacks start using this to their great
advantage and that’s the story of A. Philip Randolph.  A. Philip Randolph, whose name
has come up several times already in the course, and
I’m going to devote the rest of the lecture
to him quickly, he is one of the most
important transitional political figures in
African American history. He was born in 1889,
dies in 1979.  I mean, the ranges of what happens
in his lifetime is really astonishing.  But here’s a
person who’s involved in the political scene in the
nineteen-teens and twenties, taking a frontline argument
on issues.  And he’s there in 1941 at a moment
of, of powerful symbolic importance, I’ll be talking
about in a moment.  And he’s there in 1963 when King
steps up to the microphone and delivers his
“Dream” speech.  Incredibly important political person. 
Helps us navigate from a period of Booker T. Washington political power,
ideology of accommodation, and through his consistent
socialist politics–Randolph couldn’t stand
Communists but was an ardent Socialist–transitions
African American political voice to a very different
kind–different kind of voice.  Now there’s three
phases to Randolph’s career through 1941.  In 1914,
he moves to New York City, becomes witness, well part
of and witness to the Great Migration and sees the
way it transforms that particular urban site. He sees the NAACP and the
National Urban League as people–organizations
fighting out for resources–fighting
over resources, certainly affecting workers’
lives by their policies, but not really at the
workers’ level.  NAACP being very much a
top-down organization, with assimilationist and
middle-class norms.  The National Urban League
trying to help people on the ground, but, you
know, in the pocket of corporate–corporations and
helping basically break up labor unions. 
And Randolph says, “But what about the workers
themselves?”  And so he starts looking around
for different ways to get involved in
workers’ movements, labor movements.  In
1917, he declares himself a Socialist, urges
blacks to resist the U.S. draft and to confine their
fighting to the domestic front.  He can’t stand
Du Bois’s call to close our–close ranks.  And
around the same time he, along with another black
socialist named Chandler Owen, start publishing a
mess–a magazine called the Messenger. 
Through the Messenger, Randolph calls for a bold,
black socialist leadership, calls for radicals who would
not be afraid to challenge accepted notions
of, of how a U.S. society should operate.  If
Washington is on this part of a spectrum, and Du Bois
is over here on the opposite side, Randolph’s even
further beyond Du Bois politically.  He and
Owen are characterized as Bolsheviks by
members of Congress. They’re investigated by
the Department of Justice, and they
declare in response, “We would be glad to see
a Bolshevik government substituted in the South
in place of your Bourbon, reactionary, vote-stolen,
misrepresentative, democratic
regime.”  That sounds like, you know, Black
Panther talking here, doesn’t it?  In 1919,
Randolph says that he’s thankful for the
Russian Revolution, the greatest achievement of
the twentieth century.  But when the American
version–when the American Communist Party is
organized in twenty-one, Randolph remains a Socialist
and dedicates the rest of his life really
to preventing social–Communists from
controlling or representing black America.  By
the mid-twenties, the Messenger as a journal
is actually not doing that well.  Randolph still
casting about for ways in which to connect
with black workers, and a labor union is
being–is organized, and recognized that Randolph
really has the voice that they need to be heard in
a larger–a larger scene, and that’s the Brotherhood
of Sleeping Car Porters and Maids.  In ’25, 1925,
Randolph’s recruited to head the union of
Sleeping Car Porters, and then when organized,
trying to get the American Federation–the
Pullman Company, people who run the
trains, own the trains, to recognize that union, and
then the American Federation of Labor to recognize that
union.  Efforts are made to get better working
conditions and higher wages from Pullman.  Pullman
refuses both and tries blackballing
Randolph, tries to, you know, crush him. 
Randolph becomes very unpopular with black and
white groups alike for his radical stances, but the
Brotherhood of Sleeping Car Porters does earn
the–gather the support of the NAACP, the Urban League,
and eventually the American Federation of Labor.  It
wins partial recognition in 1926, and in 1929,
more recognition, but still not full
recognition.  A decade later after starting this battle,
Randolph does win for the Brotherhood of Sleeping
Car Porters and Maids full recognition
from the AFL and, a year later, from the
Pullman Porters–the Pullman porters–I mean
from the AFL, ex–from the Pullman
Company.  The wages go up, job security goes
up, benefits go up. The Pullman porters actually
become a great vehicle to attain middle-class status
for a segment of black America. In fact, the
Pullman porters, the U.S. post, the military, over
the course of the twentieth century, are the three great
ways for black Americans to transition to middle-class
status.  With Randolph’s victories with the
Brotherhood of Sleeping Car Porters and Maids getting
fully recognized finally in ’36 and ’37, he is
seen as, without doubt, the most important
black labor leader in the country.  This is why he’s
selected to run the National Negro Congress.  There’s
nobody else who has his access, who has his power,
and his influence.  But as you know, Randolph is a
staunch anti-Communist, and as the National Negro
Congress develops further, he realizes there’s no place
for him any more in that organization.  So Randolph
starts thinking of a different way to
achieve justice for blacks, full citizenship rights and
decent jobs for blacks in the United States.  The
National Negro Congress is not going to be the
vehicle.  What Randolph sees is that as the U.S. war industry
starts to develop, as it’s arming
Europe–Western Europe, or the Allies, I
should say–as the U.S. war machine, industrial
war machine develops, these are the best
paying jobs in the country, as far as, you know,
factory work is concerned, and blacks can’t get those
jobs.  They can work–they can push a broom
in the factory, but they can’t roll steel,
or whatever you do in a munitions factory. 
Factories run overtime.  There’s money to be made
hand over fist.  Blacks couldn’t get those jobs. 
There’s movements being made to increase the
size of the army, a powerfully segregated
army.  Randolph says, “Where do we fit
in, in all of this? We’re second-class in
the factory and in the military.”  Randolph and a
group of other leaders go to Franklin Roosevelt,
September of 1940, with a seven
point plan, that, I mean, I’m not going to go
into now in the interests of time, but
essentially calling for the desegregation or the
integration of the U.S. military, calling for access
to all jobs in the defense industries, essentially
anti-discrimination policies.  The plea
is ignored.  FDR, always being afraid of
losing his coalition of southern Democrats who would
be upset by any sort of racial progressive
politics.  Blacks are going into the army certainly, but
they’re going into all black units, trained in
separate places, trained most often by white
officers.  A lot of the same story that you heard in
World War I.  Domestic hiring situation is a joke. 
Blacks are not being hired in factory floor jobs.  As
white men go off to fight in the war, white women are
brought into the factory, a radical change for
women’s possibilities, certainly, but black men and
black women are not getting these jobs.  So in
January of 1941, Randolph proposes–I mean
he’s no longer with the National Negro Congress. 
He’s broken from them.  He proposes a March
on Washington, and he demands that
something be done regarding black access to jobs, and of
course for the integration of the military.  And he
calls at first for ten thousand blacks to march on
Washington.  And as that met with enthusiasm, he calls
for fifty thousand.  Then he calls for one hundred
thousand blacks to march on Washington that
summer, on July 1st, if there is no change.  It
doesn’t seem like bluster.  Things have changed, on the
ground and in the air.  As we head into the
summer, into June, people in D.C. are getting
concerned.  “My god, what if one hundred thousand
Negroes come into this city and are angry?  What
are we going to do?”  And Roosevelt,
Franklin Roosevelt, dispatches two of his
most trusted sort of network political
operatives to talk with A. Philip Randolph to calm him
down.  He sends Fiorello La Guardia, then the
mayor of New York City, liberal on race issues. 
“Please talk to Randolph and tell him to call off this
march.”  No dice.  He sends his wife, the most powerful
proponent on these issues in his pocket, he sends
his wife.  Randolph goes, “No dice.  I’m not, I’m
not canceling this march.”  Finally FDR says,
“Okay, Mr. Randolph, come to see me.” It’s a week
before the march is set to go off.  Randolph goes
into the White House, meets with Roosevelt. 
And Roosevelt says, Roosevelt says, “If
you call off the march, I’ll issue an executive
order with ‘teeth’ in it, as the word was. 
And Randolph says, “Okay.”  Roosevelt signs
Executive Order 8802 on June 25th, 1941.  It says there
shall be no discrimination in the employment of workers
in defense industries or government
because of race, creed, color or national origin,
and it’s the duty of the employers and of labor
organizations to provide for the full and equitable
participation of all workers in defense industries
without discrimination based on race, creed, color,
national origin.  It sets up a Fair Employment Practices
Committee that would be a watchdog organization.  It
couldn’t do anything but give bad publicity to a
factory that’s not hiring black workers.  But
people didn’t want to be, to be seen
somehow as un-American, so FE–FEPC could make some
changes along the margins, along the edges of things. You’ll notice that the
executive order did not end segregation in the military. It’s simply calling for
industry changes.  Randolph doesn’t win that battle and
won’t win it for a while.  Now blacks hail the
Executive Order 8802 as the most significant order
since the Emancipation Proclamation. 
This is a new era, and it’s not a new era
just because of what the President’s calling
for.  It’s on the ground, what happens is a little, a
little messier.  It doesn’t immediately integrate all
industries.  But what’s really important
is the linkage now, the symbolic possibilities
and real political change, and that is a prominent
leader of the African American community called
the President’s bluff; was called into the White
House and they negotiated, face to face, to find a
resolution.  That’s one of the things, once the
genie’s out of that bottle, it can’t go back in.  So
black access to the White House is now direct, to the
President.  Presidents from this point on cannot afford
to ignore black leaders in the way they have been doing
since the founding of the Republic.  So you have in
A.  Philip Randolph and the March on Washington moment
the merging of the symbolic politics of possibility
and the real politics of possibility.  And it is a
merger that would go on to define the civil rights
movement that we know about so well over the next thirty
or forty years.  Thank you very much.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *