1921: Beware the Ides of March

The Messenger (August 1920)

The National Association for the Promotion of Labor Unionism Among Negroes was founded in 1918 by A. Philip Randolphthe great union organizer who would later form the Brotherhood of Sleeping Car Portersand writer Chandler Owens; it was promoted through their Harlem-based journal The Messenger, a political and literary publication of Socialist persuasion.

In March 1921, the Raleigh, NC Union Herald reported that the organization had “held a widely heralded meeting in New York City (attended by two or three hundred persons, according to one New York newspaper) at which the Knights of the Ku Klux Klan was loudly decried by black and white. At this meeting it was charged by frothing speakers that the Ku Klux Klan is the enemy of organized labor, that it is being financed by wealthy northern-men who own large business interests in the South and who are contributing funds for the purpose of intimidating the negro and keeping his wages down.”

When The Messenger was accused of attempting to “arouse discontent among Negroes in the United States…by circulating bolshevik doctrines among them”and made the target of a congressional investigationthe response was as follows:

First. With respect to the legislative committee’s investigation of our activities, we wish to say that all of our work is open to the public and we shall welcome the proposed investigation.

Secondly. The National Association for the Promotion of Labor Unionism Among Negroes was not formed to stimulate socialist activities among Negroes, but to promote unionism among Negroes, just as its name implies.

Third. It is true that an attempt is being made to arouse discontent among Negroes by circulating sound economic, political, and social doctrines among them. If that is what the Union League Club means by bolshevik doctrines, we plead guilty to the charge.

We wish, however, to ask the Union League Club [who promoted the investigation] a few pertinent questions. You gentlemen represent and control about one-third of the wealth of the United States—$100,000,000,000. There is hardly a corporation, trust, syndicate, railroad, or bank which you do not control directly or indirectly. Your political party Is the party of big business—the Republican Party. That party just now is in control of the Government. You have it within your power to allay the discontent of the Negro population by according justice to it.

1. Negroes are disfranchised. They don’t like that. Will the Union League Club direct its Republican Congress to reduce the representation of the South, which it now sends to Congress in criminal violation of the Constitution, and also to enforce the fourteenth and fifteenth amendments to the Federal Constitution?

2. Negroes are lynched—one every four days. One was burned at stake in Pensacola, Fla., just about the time that the Union League Club was passing its resolution on bolshevism among Negroes. Will the Union League Club direct its Republican Congress to pass a Federal law against lynching—a law with real teeth in it? This will do much to allay discontent among Negroes, for it is lynching more than anything else with which Negroes are dissatisfied.

3. Negroes are in peonage and on convict farms in the South. This Is a violation of the thirteenth amendment to the Constitution. Will the Union League Club direct its Congress to enforce this amendment and stop nullifying the law in its administration?

4. Negroes are Jim-Crowed and made to ride like cattle on the Government-controlled railroads of the United States. This is unjust and undemocratic. It creates discontent. Will the Union League Club direct its Republican-controlled Congress to abolish the despicable Jim Crow car?

5. Negroes can not enter the military and naval academies of this country at Annapolis and West Point, respectively. We do not believe in such academies at all. We, wish they could be discontinued completely. But while they exist. there should be no discrimination shown between the dusky and the fair skin warrior. Will the Union League Club direct its Republican Congress to open the doors of West Point and Annapolis to all applicants without regard to race or color?

Gentlemen of the Union League Club, in asking you these questions, we have incidentally stated the chief causes of unrest among Negroes. The unrest grows out of the unjust conditions in this alleged land of the free and home of the brave. They are the true bolshevik propaganda. Without the conditions the agitator could not exist.

Finally, gentlemen of the Union League Club, 99 per cent of Negroes are working people. They earn their living by labor—by sweat and toil and tears, by brawn and blood. You are 100 per cent plutocrats. You get your living from rent, interest, and profits. You secure it by the manipulation of paper, by taking title to wealth produced by the labor of the toiling black and the sweated white workers. Only last year you gained over $4,000,000,000 off the food which you sold them, off the shoes and clothing which they had to buy, off the high rents you charged for the hovels in which they eked out a miserable existence. You paid both black and white workers the lowest wages for their labor, and charged them the highest prices when they bought back the products of their labor. You smug plutocrats and silk-gloved hypocrites who have time to sit in clubs, steam-heated in the winter and ice-cooled in the summer, are the real causes of the discontent among Negroes and among whites and all classes of labor….You are really attempting to avert suspicion by condemning the thing you are doing yourself. You are crying “Stop thief !” with the loot under your arms.

Unlesss you billionaires of the Union League Club stop playing the African ostrich with your heads in the sand, trying to convince yourselves that things are not as they are; and unless you quickly find out and remedy the real causes of discontent among Negroes and among whites, you will not have occasion to doubt the result. Once a certain king, drunk with power, said: “This will last as long as we last; after us the deluge!” But the deluge came before he had finished his unhappy and hapless career. You are in danger of the same fate, as the hands of evolution’s clock rapidly strike the high noon of the black and white workers’ seething unrest, brewing revolution and wild-eyed discontent. Gentlemen of the Union League Club: Beware the Ides of March; beware of March revolutions!

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