Black Leadership Analysis

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The Annihilation of Caste

The Annihilation of Caste was originally written as a speech for the Society of the Abolition of Caste (Jat-Pat-Todak). The Society wanted Ambedkar to lead the 1936 Conference in Lahore. The Society composed of Dalits and Caste Hindus working to end caste first invited Ambedkar on December 12, 1935. Ambedkar initially turned them down because even liberal Hindus often opposed his views. The Society sent a delegation to Ambedkar in Bombay. He eventually agreed to explain in detail how it is impossible to break caste without annihilating religious notions undergirding the caste system.

Ambedkar prepared the first draft and sent it to the Society for approval. An argument began on whether the Society should publish the speech in Lahore or by Ambedkar in Bombay during the completion of the final draft. Ambedkar held firm to his right to publish his work. The Society sent a representative to Ambedkar to make amends and get a final draft of the address.

When the Society received the final draft, many Hindu members were upset that the speech attacked Hindu scripture and the fundamental morality of Hinduism. The Society then asked Ambedkar to change the address to make it more palatable to all the members. Ambedkar refused. The Society specifically asked him to explain how Hinduism is fundamental to the Caste System. If they had a problem with his speech, the Society should have rejected the first draft. Criticizing the casteism within Hindu scriptures is fundamental to Ambedkar’s prescription for Indian progress. The existence of caste inside scripture makes the religion of Hinduism antithetical to equality. Ambedkar canceled the conference and left the Society with the following quote:

But What can anyone expect from a relationship so tragic as the relationship between the reforming sect of Caste Hindus and the self-respecting sect of Untouchables where the former have no desire to alienate their orthodox fellows, and the latter have no alternative but to insist upon return being carried out?

The Annihilation of Caste

India must annihilate caste to facilitate unification. Without unification, there will never be a large enough population resisting British rule. Even if Britain granted independence to a divided India, persecution of the lower castes will continue. The divisions with in the country will retard India’s growth if not rip it apart.

The caste system is a system that divides India into thousands of sub-castes due to birth. Also, the caste system created a hierarchy in which sub-caste in the highest positions have more rights and privileges. There is no unifying moral belief that everyone must follow. All morality is contingent on caste. One is also born with this caste and cannot change it. Therefore conversion is not possible. If one were to adopt Hinduism, they would not have a caste and would not intermingle with other believers. India has a large population of people that still live in tribes uninfluenced by Hinduism.

The term “Hindu” is derived from Arabic to describe the people they conquered in India. Before the Islamic invasion, no word unified all the people in the sub-continent. Essentially, Indians never saw themselves as one united people. The caste worshiped Hindu gods in separate cults. There was never a unifying ethos or praxis in the religion.

Separation due to caste had always weakened India. Muslims and Sikhs stood united against oppression, whereas Hindus understood people of other castes would not support them. That is why so many invaders took over India. Hinduism and the caste system have left India weak. India’s failure to repel a conqueror proves it. The Hindu culture has survived thousands of years only because no conqueror saw it necessary to destroy it. Hinduism is not uniquely resilient.

Many Indians, including Mr. Mohandes Gandhi, favored replacing the caste system with Chaturuvarnya. The Chaturuvarnya classified people into four castes Brahmin (Priest), Kshatriyas (Soldiers), Vaishya (Retailers), and Shudras (Menials). The idea was that reducing the hundreds of castes in India currently would be the first step in unification. Also, the Chaturvarnya doesn’t forbid anyone from learning a profession outside their birth occupation. It only prohibits earning a living from it.

Ambedkar explains Chatruvarnya will not work because people don’t fit into simple categories. People are much too complicated for that, and classification is only superficial. Determining one’s profession by birth hinders people from fulfilling market needs. People need the flexibility to change jobs when needs arise, such as war. If India were to be invaded and only Kshatriyas could serve in the military, there would not be enough soldiers for defense, as seen many times in Indian history.

Even within the Chatruvarnya, there is no motivation for a Kshatriya to defend the rights of a Shudra. There is no motivation for a Brahmin to use his intellect for the good of the Shudra. Hierarchies naturally lead to exploitation. People in every community depends on experts. However, all societies should allow all citizens access to education and self-defense as both are vital needs.

Socialists, in contrast to supporters of Chatruvarnya, wanted to end caste. However, they saw it best to do this indirectly with the inevitable socialist revolution. Once workers owned the means of production, all the workers would unite regardless of caste. There was no need to attack caste directly; the natural progression of society would end caste.

Here the socialist are class reductionists, and Ambedkar reminds them that money is not the only source of power for many people. Religious and social statuses are also a source of power. Muslims will sell their last possessions to go on Haj. Wealthy Hindus will obey penniless gurus. The idea that money is the primary method to obtain power comes from an analysis of modern-day Europe. India is a very different creature, and the socialist theorist had not evaluated the intersectionality of economics, religion, and culture.

The socialist revolution will require all workers to unite. Worker unity is not possible without the abolition of caste. Those of low caste will not trust high caste leadership. Those of high caste would not follow leaders of low caste. The people of India must foment fellow-feeling as a prerequisite to solidarity.

It is essential to remember class is not the same as caste. Classes are not separated socially. Nothing is stopping the poor woman from eating with the rich woman, no reason to kill a poor man that marries a rich woman. Castes are separated in every area of intercourse and suffer stiff penalties for transgression. Dalits are not allowed on the sidewalk at the same time as a Hindu because the Dalit shadow could pollute the Hindu. Dalits had to wear a pot around their neck to catch their spittle and a broom on their waste to sweep away their footsteps. No poor person in Europe had to go through this level of humiliation.

Caste is also not based on race or ethnology. Even in the 1930s, ethnologist agreed that no one is racially pure. Even the ethnologists that support the idea of race do not believe races represent different species. Even if race was the basis of caste, there is no reason to think there would be a scientific justification for hundreds of subcastes. It is also important that those that support eugenicists, those that believe races are different species, are also supporting the idea that Indians are pygmies, and 90% are unfit for military service.

Ambedkar did not believe all men have equal ability. He did believe there is no way to predetermine a person’s ability. Ability is dependent on physical heredity, environment, and personal effort. These factors interconnect in complex ways that are difficult for outsiders to understand. From a practical standpoint, Society should be organized in a way to allow for as much equality from the very start. Equity is the only way to get the most out of each member of Society. The following quote is the best summary:

Treat all men alike not because they are alike but because classification and assortment is impossible. The doctrine of equality is glaringly fallacious but taking all in all it is the only way a statesmen can proceed in politics which is a severely practical affair and which demands a severely practical test.

One must destroy the religious underpinnings of caste to eradicate it from Indian Society. That means an abdication of the Vedas, Smirtis, Shastras, and Sadachars. These texts do not serve as a moral code and are only a set of rules. Ambedkar thinks Hinduism should be reformed as a state religion with the following parameters:

  1. There should be one and only one standard book of Hinduism acceptable to all Hindus
  2. Priesthood should be open to all citizens, and heredical priesthood should be abolished
  3. Only licensed priest can perform ceremonies
  4. State should discipline priest that break moral or civil codes
  5. State should limit the amount of priest based on population

After the annihilation of caste, Indians can establish fellow-feeling amongst themselves. This fraternity is the basis of democracy. There will not be campaigns to promote inter-dining or intermarriage because those things will not be needed. India needs and deserves more than a new system of government. Indians need an equitable society.

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Ancestral Reverence in Shadow Work

Part of Buddhist and African spirituality is reverence for your ancestors. In both frameworks, ancestors provide guidance and assistance. In addition to the help they can provide, people that adhere to these spiritualities use ancestral reverence as a way to recognize and thank our forebears for their sacrifice. The practice allows for a person’s ancestors to move through them. Reverence for ancestors will also aid in coming to grips with yourself as part of an unbroken continuum of experience. The continuum stretches back to the beginning of time and forward until the end of time. The continuation happens whether an individual has children or not. The ancestors will help a person to integrate aspects of their personality.

My ancestral reverence practice occurs after my daily meditation. After meditation, I bow, the Buddhist term is half-prostration, and imagine how my ancestors looked. In meditation, a person should move away from using words and attempt to concentrate on first order sensations. I chose as my ancestral image to be a slave. For me, a female image is more natural and more soothing. I am not sure why.

I feel Black Americans need to come to terms with our slave ancestry. The first step for us was coming to grips with our African ancestry. Black Americans were told the pre-colonial Africans were primitive and lacked culture. Those myths have been debunked, and most blacks understand that African civilization was advanced.

I viewed my slave ancestry as something I have to overcome. My slave ancestors sacrificed for me to be here. I now owe them being successful. If I am unsuccessful, their sacrifice was for nothing. I suspect many other people feel the same way.

What I was missing was slaves had full lives in spite of the oppression. The slaves sought wisdom, savored the few pleasures they had, and found love. I am a product of them finding love. When I came to grips with that, I could allow myself to live a full life. My life doesn’t solely have to be about being successful. My slave ancestors showed me how to have a full life in spite of oppression. I owe them being happy, not successful.

Anyone that follows my blog knows I have completed extensive research on the Pullman Porters. While doing research, I stumbled across many stories of the abusive treatment the porter’s received. Porters were called every racial slur. One of the most frequently used was calling all porters “George.” The name came because a man named George Pullman owned the Pullman company. During slavery, slaves were named after their master. Most passengers, especially from the south saw the porters as slaves and treated them accordingly.

These stories triggered me emotionally. Many times in my career I did not speak up when I or someone around me suffered a racial injustice. Many of my black co-workers expressed that I was extremely passive. I had a rocky start to my career and felt I needed to concentrate on the “nuts and bolts” of the job. I avoided unnecessary conflict because I had very little experience and could be replaced easily if things come to a head. I was fired from my first job due to having a racial conflict, and I did not want to repeat this pattern.

I often second guess my decision on this job. I regret not standing up for myself and others more. I have a few instances, in particular, I regret very much. I justify it to myself by saying I had to take care of business. I needed to hold on to the job and gain experience. Deep down I feel not only did I not stand up for myself, but I also did not stand up for my race.

I contrast my struggles with what the Pullman Porters accepted from the company and what they were able to accomplish in the field of Civil Rights. Even if a porter was completely passive, he was part of an organization, if he joined the union, which laid the foundation for the 1960’s Civil Rights Movement. If he was kowtowing, he kowtowed for the struggle. If a few racist white people laughed about making a spectacle of a porter, who cares? The porter laid the foundation for me.

I am not saying I have accomplished anything anywhere near as significant as the Pullman Porters. However, progress is not about individual achievement. Progress is about community achievement. I could get the opportunity to redeem myself, someone in a future generation could redeem me. Everyday I decide if the cumulative affects of my actions are positive or negative. Being black is not about winning every fight; no one wins every fight. The goal is to have a larger balance of positive action than negative actions. Your positive action balance is tallied every day. In each moment you create your legacy.

I recently, re-read Che Guevara’s Motorcycle Diaries. In the book, he recounts a story of meeting a black man in Peru that reported the murder of his friend. Below is the quote:

“Until this point, we had been traveling in the same truck as the black guy who had reported the murder. At one of the stops along the road, he bought us a meal and throughout it, lectured us on coffee, papaya, and the black slaves, of whom his grandfather had been one. He said this quite openly but [in] it you could detect a note of shame in his voice. In any case, Alberto and I agreed to absolve him of any guilt in the murder of his friend.”

The man from Peru had an intellectual understanding of the history of his people. The man did not have emotional acceptance, hence the shame. A person must foster both the intellectual understanding and the emotional acceptance. I feel that we as black people have a difficult time with the fact we have had to and still have to acquiesce to injustice. It is a survival method forged by our slave ancestors and is often still useful. Black people hate to admit that they had to acquiesce and others around them had to acquiesce.

The shame of acquiescence causes black people to vilify many our mainstream Civil Rights leaders as Uncle Toms. Many hate that A. Philip Randolph had to say the racist American Federation of Labor leader and L. Johnson was a greater friends to blacks than Lincoln. He was able to accomplish more than any other Civil Rights leader. Randolph was not a dogmatist; he was a pragmatist. He built relationships and allied with those he needed, not those with similar views. He separated the needs of the group and race from his personal need for pride. The same goes for Ed Nixon who organized the Montgomery Bus Boycott. Nixon was also pragmatic and extremely successful. He is now often viewed as a Tom. These men should be revered as examples of successful leadership.

I think the vilification of Nixon and Randolph would lessen if black people came to grips with their issues with acquiescence. Once a person accepts they did not directly confront the racism they encountered they can accept the behavior in other people. When can then realistically evaluate the sum of all actions and determine if the leader was successful or not. It is true many leaders acquiesce and get no benefit to themselves and the race at large. Acquiesce without results should be vilified. However, if you can prove the leader made the material conditions of black life better, then give the leader the credit they deserve.

To recap, ancestral reverence will help to integrate various aspects of a person’s personality. Once a person has a better understanding of themselves and their psychology, they will reevaluate many leaders from a more logical standpoint. Often we don’t like in leaders aspects of ourselves. As a community, doing shadow work will help us to choose the most suitable leaders.

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Analysis: Asa Philip Randolph

What He Has Right

Randolph’s treatise on lynching was superb. He understands and relays to the audience the underlying cause of lynchings is economic, not racist. By being able to see the bigger picture, the audience can understand the manipulation. The treatise on lynching illustrates how race issues are rooted in economics.

Randolph did understand the causes of World War I. Many modern historians point to the German colonial expansion was a catalyst for the War. Also, the war can be a boost for the economy and did boost the economy in America and Europe. The war utilized idol materials and workers.

He also understands that global peace will only come after all people are independent and self-agentic. He realizes that the non-European countries are not ready for full independence as of yet. However, the European countries should nurture and bring the countries along.

Randolph’s ultimate plan of bringing together black and white workers will work to the benefit of all involved. Uniting the workers will reduce the number of people willing to cross picket lines and gives the union more power. However, he also understands people will not integrate without laws forcing them to do so. He knows the failure to comply should lead to a loss of funding or political power.

The march toward fair hiring practices will require sustained action. He encouraged the crowd to take the energy back home. He also tutored younger leaders such as Martin Luther King. Randolph understood the process would not only extend his whole life, but it will extend through many lifetimes.

Randolph is correct that he and more moderate Civil Rights leaders are the voice of most Black Americans. Only Dr. King can rival Randolph’s list of accomplishments. Integration is the only way forward for a people systematically disenfranchised. Blacks should not leave or separate. Blacks were an integral part of the building of the country and should reap all the same rewards.

What He Has Wrong

Peace is not a sufficient motivator to get the European countries to facilitate the growth of Non-European countries. The Orange meme, which most European countries were operating at the time, has no reason to help other countries grow. In the Orange meme, the European countries want to have as much status and resources as possible. If profit sharing and knowledge sharing happens, the European countries must give up their status. Here are a list of reasons why the European nations will never facilitate third world growth

1. The European nations want to keep the resources to themselves
2. The European nations want to keep labor cheap
3. The European nations do not see the natives as intellectual equals
4. Admitting that change is needed proves that the European countries were wrong in the past

Full equability requires a shift in consciousness. No council full of countries at Orange level consciousness will perpetuate the current system. That doesn’t mean that a council will not at least ensure the world does not regress. However, profound psychological work will be needed by a large group of individuals before any real progress occurs. At the time Randolph was writing this treatise very few people had made the connection between spirituality, politics, and psychology. The modern day analyst, especially the integralist, can see where this philosophy is lacking.

His framing of President Johnson is overly rose-colored. It is important for the reader to know that Johnson was a Dixiecrat and supporter of segregation until he became president. Most other historians recount how afraid most black people were when Johnson took over the Presidency. Johnson did sign some of the most important Civil Rights legislation. However, the motivation was more political than moral. A separate blog post is needed to give this subject justice.

It is also clear that Dr. King was under FBI surveillance during his entire career. Johnson had to be aware of this fact. To say Dr. King and Johnson had good relations is simply not accurate.

The Democratic party absorbed most of the Civil Rights leadership of the 1960’s. Randolph knew he had to keep his political allies to push forth more legislation. Randolph was also Vice President of the AFL-CIO. The AFL-CIO was strongly allied with the Democratic party. Randolph was being pressured on all sides to keep a positive relationship with the Democrats.

Where is A. Philip Randolph on the Spiral

A Philip Randolph is in the Orange Meme Integrationist. He is a Democratic Socialist that supports First Order Change. Randolph saw race as a subset of the larger issue of economic inequality. In his work, he concentrated on American blacks. Even though he did have a world perspective, which is usually Orange Meme, his work was all in America. Randolph was a power player in the Democratic Party for decades and had recognition internationally. He concentrated on America.

At the beginning of his career, he wanted Second Order change and supported the revolution in Russia. He saw the treatment of minorities in the USSR and determined Communism was severely lacking. Just because he felt the system was superior that did not mean change was not needed. Randolph demonstrates pragmatism in action.

I saw no change in values, so there was no shift up or down the Spiral in Randolph’s public life. He is centered in Orange the entire time.

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March on Washington Movement

After the departure from the National Negro Congress, A. Philip Randolph tours the country with his Brotherhood Vice-President Milton Webster. Webster has the idea of a mass demonstration in Washington. He suggests 10,000 people Marching on Washington. [1] Randolph closes his speeches with a call for a mass protest. The idea spreads like wildfire. In 1941, many are calling for Randolph to go through with the march. Black people have been excluded from the Defense Industry too long. Randolph also wants to end Jim Crow in the military.

Randolph started the March on Washington Movement to create a new coalition to create a mass demonstration to force the government to end segregation in the military and defense industry. He allies with the NAACP, Federal Council on Negro Affairs, and National Urban League. [2]All groups are moderate Civil Rights organizations that wanted first-order change.

Mary McLeod Bethune headed The Federal Council on Negro Affairs. She was a Washington insider that had unprecedented access to the Roosevelts. She was the highest paid government official at the time. [6] Bethune and Eleanor Roosevelt were close friends. Bethune received inside knowledge on how the President thought and had an advocate for blacks that is extremely close to the President.

Walter White headed the NAACP at this time. White was another Washington insider and had several meetings on the topic of desegregation in the defense industry. [6] In later years, Randolph and White become rivals and tell conflicting stories about who convinced Roosevelt to sign the executive order. Ultimately, both men had influence on Roosevelt. White pressured from inside the White House. Randolph pressured from outside the White House.

He now needs to ensure those that want second-order change, the Communist, are excluded from the group. He calls for only black people to come to the march. At the time, few whites outside the Communist Party had interest. There were very few black people in the Communist Party because they abandoned the cause of Civil Rights during World War II. Calling for only black people to be at the march was a shrewd method to dissolve the threat of Communist agitation. There is still bad-blood between the two groups since the National Negro Congress split and the Communist could use a disturbance at the march to reduce A. Philip Randolph’s power.

Roosevelt never said he was against desegregation, but he did not actively support Civil Rights. He needed Southern support to pass and continue the New Deal. To keep the Southerners support, he purposely excluded domestic and agricultural workers from New Deal benefits. At the time 60% of black people were domestic and farm workers. Roosevelt also refused to back an anti-lynching bill in 1938.[3] No matter what Roosevelt personally believed, he would always act with political motives.

The USA had not entered World War II in the summer of 1941. Roosevelt wanted to aid the allies in not only supplies but soldiers. He also was framing the war as a struggle against tyranny and genocide. A mass demonstration against racism would call into question America’s moral authority in the war. Roosevelt could not risk a civil disturbance at this critical time.

Eleanor Roosevelt, heavily influenced by Bethune, calls A. Philip Randolph to discuss postponing the march. Randolph agrees to meet with Roosevelt, other Civil Rights leaders, and various cabinet members. According to Randolph in a 1968 interview, Roosevelt was chiefly worried about a civil disturbance at the march. [4] Roosevelt initially proposed an executive order to outlaw segregation in the government contracted defense industry in return for calling off the march. Randolph would not agree. He demanded that the government include non-contract defense industry. Randolph is only willing to postpone not stop the march. Roosevelt balked at first but ultimately capitulated. Roosevelt signs Executive Order 8802 two days before the march. [4]

Randolph makes a unilateral decision to call off the march. [2]It is possible he did not have enough time to consult with the rest of his team. It could be that he thought the team would not agree unless the order included the military. Many historians chastise Randolph for unilaterally calling off the march. Originally the March on Washington Movement was a collaboration among equals; now it was Randolph’s group.

There is another group of historians that believe Randolph would not have been able to make the march happen. [6] Washington was a segregated city at that time, that meant few accommodations for housing and restricted access by rail. Because many of the rural areas around DC did not have black newspapers, word of the March spread in major cities across the country not to blacks within driving distance. It is possible that Randolph knew he would not be able to gather his 100,000 people.

Randolph has only postponed the march he has not called it off altogether. He now has branches in Los Angeles, Chicago, Trenton, Milwaukee, Washington, Cleveland, Richmond, St. Louis, Atlanta, Savannah, St. Paul, and Jacksonville. [2] The new national movement was successful in creating demonstrations in New York, Chicago, and St. Louis.

Roosevelt created the Fair Employment Practice Committee, FEPC, to enforce desegregation in the armed forces. He appoints Southerner Mark Ethridge to oversee the committee. Ethridge was a staunchly believed segregation had moral and practical justification. [2] The FEPC has no authority to punish the contractors or government agencies if they are found not obeying the executive order. The result of the FEPC is only documentation that segregation is happening. [2]The FEPC ended due to government cuts in 1943.

The FEPC did have practical reasons for not punishing desegregation. The country was in the middle of supplying and fighting (by the end of 1941) a war effort. Stopping a production line or pulling a contract could get people killed on the front line. However, there could have been measures taken that would not shut down the line, such as disqualification in future contracts.

Randolph continues to use the threat of a mass protest to pressure the government into desegregating the military. To execute a massive protest, he needed more organizational infrastructure. In the 1942 conference, organizational ground rules are made. The first is no money from whites. The MOWM can only serve blacks if it is funded by blacks. The second was a complete denouncement of communism. The third was all local branches come together for the March on Washington.[6] Other than the March on Washington local offices had autonomy.

The institutionalization of the MOWM causes the NAACP to worry that they could lose membership and funding. The NAACP denounced the MOWM as being exclusionary to whites. Turning the NAACP into an enemy caused the most problems with the Washington local branch. The NAACP did everything to discourage membership. The DC local was found to have no members in a 1943 audit. [6]The lack of membership was partly due to poor management, but denouncement by the local NAACP did not help the matter. [6] If there is no support in the city in which the protest takes place, there is no reason to think a protest can happen.

The Left criticized the MOWM first. The Left felt the executive order did not go far enough because there was no penalty for non-compliance. The second issue was a fear that Randolph was working to gain a foot into the Democratic Party on the backs of his people. Blacks would then have total loyalty to the Democratic Party. People do not bait hooks for caught fish. From the extreme Left the criticism was Randolph was not attempting to overthrow an inherently racist system, he was just trying to get black people included in the system at a deeper level.

On the right, there was the charge that a mass demonstration is too risky. The summer of 1943 birthed two race riots in Detroit and New York. Both ended with dozens of blacks killed or injured. The Ohio newspaper,Cleveland Call, urged Randolph to concentrate on local protest at factories. The paper cited numerous instances of local protest working without the risk or cost of a national demonstration. [7]

Randolph wanted the march to be all black to reduce the likelihood of infiltration by saboteurs and to promote black pride. Having an all black march would combat the inferiority complex in blacks. [6] If blacks cannot do anything on their own they will never have the confidence to compete in America. Having the MOWM funded totally by blacks allowed for total control of the movement. Randolph reiterates an old saying “there is no instance of people… winning freedom who did not have to pay for it in treasure, blood, and tears, and since who pays the fiddler calls the time.” [6]

Ultimately, a movement can’t be funded by people with no money. Funding from the NAACP dries up when the MOWM is thought to be working for a permanent organization. In 1942, Randolph admitted to a lieutenant that the movement does not have a dime. [6] In 1943, Randolph asks the Executive Committee for personal loans to keep the movement afloat. [6] The organization holds itself together until 1947 with no paid staff members.

The first organization dedicated to nonviolent direct action was The March on Washington Movement. The NAACP focused on winning cases; the National Urban League groomed politicians, the MOWM got people in the streets across the nation to protest. The MOWM successfully picketed an arms manufacturer in St. Louis along with other local victories. The blueprint will be taken up in the 1960’s by Randolph protege Dr. Martin Luther King.

As stated earlier, Executive Order 8802 did not desegregate the military. Truman will have to implement Executive Order 9981 in 1948 and Secretary McNamara issuing Defense Directive 5120.36 in 1963. However, it was a crucial first step. After EO 8802 the number of black civil servants triple and the number of blacks in the defense industry went from 8.4% to 12.5%. [6] Desegregation would never happen overnight. It took many people of all races working together in many different manners. The MOWM created a template for non-violence that will be used for the entire Civil Rights Movement.

One can not be sure why Randolph left his earlier pragmatism behind. It is reasonable to assume he was terrified of communist infiltration. It is also sensible to think he needed an all-black movement to be successful to salve his ego. It’s hard for a person to share a victory with people he does not trust. I assume there were some shadow elements within Randolph that caused some self-sabotage. Randolph also lacked a lieutenant in the MOWM effort. Milton Webster was a pragmatic Vice-President of The Brotherhood of Sleeping Car Porters. Randolph had a few female secretaries, but due to money issues, none stayed long enough to influence the movement. History will never understand Randolph’s lapse in judgment.

1. Rising From the Rails by Larry Tye
2. “The Negro March On Washington Movement in the World War II Period”
3. “Race and FDR’s New Deal”
4. Thomas Baker Interview with A. Philip Randolph October 29,1968
5. New York Amsterdam News August 7, 1943
6.“It’s A New Kind of Militancy” by David Lucander
7. Cleveland Call Sept 12, 1942
8. “Harry Truman and the Desegregation of the Military” by Joy A. Reid

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Basic Philosophy of Asa Philip Randolph


In 1917, Randolph and his business partner, Chandler Owen, wrote a treatise called The Truth About Lynchings. Lynchings was a way to punish people or entire groups without a trial. Lynchings were very common in the South, and the victims were mostly black.

Randolph and Owen created the treatise to combat the myth that black men having sex with white women cause lynchings. Often interracial relationships ended with an accusation of rape. The whites of the town would rally and kill the offending black man.

To prove the cause of lynchings is not racial, Randolph and Owen show the stats for victims of lynching. Around 35% of victims of lynching were white, and only 34% followed a rape charge. There were black men lynched for dressing well, standing up to whites that disrespected them and attempting to vote. Often black men were just randomly killed. Even when a black man was accused of rape, he did not even know his white accuser. The cause of lynching is much deeper than race.

The writers contend all the victims were extremely poor and often exploited for labor. Most times blacks moved into an area and provided incredibly cheap labor. The skilled labor, generally white, would then need to run these people out of town or kill them. A mob would form to kill one man in hopes the rest would leave out of fear. If that did not work, an attack on the entire black population would follow. That was the story of lynchings in the North.

In the South, lynching provided cause for a constant state of fear in the black community. The state of fear impeded organizing and protesting for equal pay. The fear keeps the old exploitative Capitalist system alive, and the South stayed one step away from slavery.

The capitalists perpetuate racial fears and cause lynchings. The wealthy control the newspapers and can create whatever narrative they want. The public believes the narrative, and the skilled workers are pitted against non-skilled workers. Both have their attention diverted from the real cause of suffering.

Ultimately, exploitative Capitalism led to lynching. Instating socialism can correct the problem. The first order of business was to have all trade unions integrated. Blacks also have to begin to support trade unionism. It is insane to be against trade unionism because most black people are in the working class. In spite of the discrimination in the Union, the fundamental principles of Unionism are sound.

International Affairs

Randolph wrote a treatise on how the United States should handle World War I in 1917 with fellow socialist Chandler Owen. The duo was instrumental in the formulation of socialist thought in the black community. For the reader to fully understand the essay a summary of World War I is needed.

World War I started in 1914 with the assassination of Archduke Ferdinand, heir to the Austrian-Hungarian throne. A terrorist organization known as the Black Hand carried out the assassination, and the group had connections to Serbia. Serbia had recently gained full independence from the Ottoman Empire with the help of Russia. The Serbians wanted to liberate various Slavic countries from Austria – Hungary.

Austria – Hungary declared war on Serbia to avenge the killing of the heir. Serbia had a mutual protection pact with Russia. An alliance between France, Russia, and England had existed for decades. The entry of Germany on the side of Austria – Hungary culminated in “The war to end all wars.”

At the beginning of 1917, the United States was not yet in the war. A telegram from Germany was intercepted by the British. The telegram offered Mexico aid if Mexico declared war on the United States to reclaim land lost during the Mexican-American War. The telegram is now known as the Zimmerman Telegram. Public opinion swayed from isolationism to interventionism upon publication of the Zimmerman Telegram. The USA declared war on Germany on April 6, 1917.

Even though America was justified in entering the war, there were many issues getting soldiers half-way across the world. America could not reinforce European Allied force at speed to move the front line. 1917 was a year of stalemate. America was dumping tons of resources in a war with no end in sight. The government instituted the draft. America will solve all these logistic issues and by 1918 ten thousand new soldiers will be sent to France a day. The Allies will begin to push the Axis Powers back, and the war will end in the summer of 1918.

The stress of the war was not only taking a toll on America. Russia was also near starvation by 1917. The harsh living conditions for the average Russian resulted in a revolution to overthrow the Czar. The new government was the first Socialist government in the world. The new Russian government scales back on the war effort. A treaty between German and Russian will be signed in March of 1918.

Randolph and Owen’s joint treatise Terms of Peace and the Darker Races details how to the major European powers can gain peace with each other and with the non-whites of the world. The treatise takes the position that the war was not intended to avenge the death of Ferdinand. The war was to halt German progress in acquiring new territory in Africa and the Pacific. At the beginning of the war, Germany had colonies in East Africa, West Africa, Northern part of Papua New Guinea, and various islands in the Pacific. The German colonial growth threatened French and German power in Africa and beyond.

The second cause of the war was a surplus of military goods that was going idol. Capitalists run Europe and want to ensure resources go to use and generate profit. However, once the excess of military assets has been exhausted the European powers will end the war because there is not profit motive. The following paragraph is a good summary.

“ After the goods produced shall have been used. There is no gain in having the war continue, but on the contrary, the war’s continuance would be a substantial debt upon capitalist. The capitalist…sell immense amount of goods. When the war ends, the government owes them huge debts. It is necessary for the soldiers to become laborers now to pay this debt. Hence the object of peace is profit – gain- just as the object of war is.” p.2

To illustrate his idea the capital gain is the real reason for prolonging the war he shows how differently the new socialist government in Russia and the capitalist government are handling the issue of peace. The Russians have made their terms for peace well known. Britain and France engage in dark diplomacy, working on terms with Austria -Hungary, and Germany in secret. He concludes that Britain and France want continuance because they still see that the venture is profitable

The profit to be made is not only on the sale of arms and supplies, but the reclaiming of colonial lands recently lost to Germany. The new colonial lands have numerous untapped resources. Further development in Europe is no longer possible due to overuse of land. The new colonial lands are vital for further growth. The allies hope to weaken Germany and take the land back.

The European power’s main relationship to the colonial land is for exploitation. The people of the land are seen as a vehicle to be used to cultivate the ground. They are not independent/agentic beings. The following quotes are a summary of this aspect of the philosophy.

“To prevent such a fight, one of three things may be done: You may eliminate the fighters, you may remove the thing they fight about, or change the attitude on what they are fighting about.” p.8

“Herein lies the real bone of contention of the world war – darker peoples for cheap labor and darker people for rich lands” p 13

“Before getting into the terms of peace for the darker nations, we wish to observe that incidentally are the darker people’s exploited. It is not because of their color per se, but because colored peoples happen to assume such a low place in the scale of civilization just now as to make such exploitation attractive easy and possible.” p 15

Because you can not eliminate the European nations or the colonial lands, the attitude toward colonial lands must change. That is why the European must acknowledge the colonial’s independence an aid in the march toward self-sufficiency. Global peace and stability will be needed to facilitate this new paradigm.

The creation of a Permanent International Peace Commission will be necessary. The commission will judge international breaches of justice. The ability address grievances in a court setting will make the need for war obsolete. As part of the commission, there will be an International Council on the Condition of Darker Races. This council will ensure profit sharing between the workers and capitalist, proper education for natives, and eventual independence for the native people.

Randolph believes the desire for peace will be the ultimate motivator to accomplish this goal. World War I was so bloody on such a large scale that no one will want to endure any war ever again. If everyone wants peace, then full independence for the colonies is necessary. He extends the desired autonomy to Alsace, Lorraine, and Poland which were controlled by various European nations at that time.


Like many other Black Empowerment Thinkers, Randolph was a restrictionist.[D] Restrictionist means a person believes jobs or government benefits should first go to United States citizens. His reasoning is complex.

1. Black immigrants rarely applied for citizenship in the early 1900’s
2. White immigrants worked to bring racist laws into the North to shut down black competition for work. Immigrants from nations that were hostile to the USA displaced black veterans in the job market.

His restrictionist stance came from the general labor dynamic of the early 1900’s. The labor unions shut out blacks. Then the union would monopolize the labor market. When the union would strike, blacks would fill the jobs left behind by the strikers. So blacks were often opposed to immigration and the unions. The racism of the labor unions led to most blacks voting Republican and most immigrants voting Democrat. The following was a quote from Randolph in 1924.

“ Instead of reducing immigration to 2% of the 1890 quota, we favor reducing it to nothing… We favor shutting out the Germans from Germany, Italians from Italy, and the Hindus from India. Negro’s from the West Indies. The country is suffering from immigrant indigestion.”[D]

It is important to note that Randolph took no stance on immigration bills after the BSCP joined the AFL. Specifically, he did not comment on the McCarran-Walter Act in 1952 or the Hart-Cellar Act in 1965.[D]

Worker relations

In a 1919 editorial in his periodical “The Messenger” he detailed his Socialist policy in an article entitled “Our Reason for Being.” Randolph explains how the interest of black and white workers are the same. Specifically, their interests are better wages, shorter hours, and better working conditions. If unions discriminate against blacks, the capitalist will have a bank of workers to use when the union workers strike. The larger the union, the more power it will have. Therefore integrating unions is only logical. He cites the Industrial Workers of the World, which was the largest union and the most powerful integrated union in the 1910’s.

Allowing Blacks in Unions will also stop the spread of communism among black people. Black radicalism was starting to spread in blacks frustrated with the slow pace of racial justice. If black people were financially stable faith would be restored in the government and society. The newfound faith in America would lead to more stability.

Proactive Politics

Randolph gave the opening speech at the 1963 March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom. In the speech, he details how all Americans need to have full employment. Randolph hoped the march would lead to a jobs bill that would reduce national unemployment. Fair hiring practices must accompany the new jobs. He details one of the main hindrances to fair hiring practices is the need for social peace. Opponents will always claim that change will upset current workers and customers and cause a problem. Randolph expresses the need not to be afraid of conflict for the sake of advancement. Randolph demands that federal funding be contingent on compliance was the method of enforcing the new employment laws.

Randolph also makes clear that the march is just the beginning. He calls for listeners to take a pledge to take the call to resistance back home.

“ When we leave, it will be to carry on the civil rights revolution home with us into every nook and cranny of the land, and we shall return again and again to Washington in ever growing numbers until total freedom is ours” [F]


Thomas Baker interview Randolph in 1968 on his life and legacy. The Lyndon Baines Johnson Library kept the interview. The interview recounts his dealings with presidents Roosevelt, Truman, Eisenhower, Kennedy, and Johnson

The first President that Randolph interacted with was F. D. Roosevelt. Randolph had scheduled the 1941 March on Washington to protest segregation in the armed forces and munitions manufacturing. World War II was underway in Europe. The United States would enter the war in December 1941 after Pearl Harbor. The US was supplying the allied war effort. Therefore munitions factories were opening all over the country. Blacks were applying and were not given jobs in munitions factories. For a group of people kept systematically poor, not being allowed in a growing industry was a real problem.

An even larger problem was segregation in the military. There was the moral issue of fighting discrimination overseas when blacks at home suffered and the practical issue of the glass ceiling for promotions for blacks. A black soldier could be in charge of a black division but nothing else. That made the dream of becoming a general unobtainable. All black people in the armed forces had feelings of resentment.

Mrs. Roosevelt was the first to reach out to Randolph to see if they could avoid having the march. The President did not want racial strife to divide the nation when any day the US could be called to help the Allies in Europe. Mrs. Roosevelt asked why had Randolph not come to the President first. After talking, Mrs. Roosevelt set up a meeting between FDR and Randolph.

F.D. Roosevelt explained that he was soon to execute Executive Order 8802 forcing the National Defense Industry to desegregate. Initially, the Executive Order only applied to government contractors. Randolph demanded the addition of federl government work. Roosevelt agreed if Randolph called off the march. Two days before the march, Roosevelt issued Executive Order 8802 and it included the federal government.

Executive Order 8802 did not contain the military. Randolph and other Civil Rights leaders went to work on a national campaign to end segregation in the military. Truman agreed to meet with Randolph in either 1947 or 1948, Randolph could not remember. In the meeting, Randolph explains black were preparing to become insubordinate if the military did not desegregate. Truman did not realize the situation was that serious. Truman got to work and issued Executive Order 9981 desegregating the military.

Randolph says Eisenhower did the least of all the presidents he worked with for the cause of Civil Rights. Eisenhower was sympathetic to the black cause, but would not take public stands. Randolph did commend Eisenhower for protecting the Little Rock 9, but he could have done much more.

Randolph recounts the story of the 1963 March on Washington. Senators Javits and Douglass organized a meeting between Kennedy, Johnson, various congressmen, and Civil Rights leaders. The biggest concern was keeping the march peaceful. There had never been a demonstration of that size before. If the protest turned violent, it would be difficult to contain. The Civil Rights leaders reassured everyone they could keep control.

Johnson is the best president for Civil Rights according to Randolph. He makes sure to say that list includes Lincoln. Randolph lists Johnson’s accomplishments: Civil Rights Act of 1964, 1965, Voting Rights Act of 1967 and the Open House Occupancy Act of 1968. President Johnson is the first man that won the Presidency that received Randolph’s vote. Randolph spent most of his life as part of the Socialist Party, and Johnson was the first mainstream candidate that had his support. Randolph is confident that President Johnson would soon end the Vietnam War.

Baker asks Randolph if Dr. King and President Johnson had any animosity. Randolph says that Johnson and Dr. King had a good relationship. There was no animosity between King and Johnson.

Randolph considers himself and fellow Civil Rights activists Roy Wilkins and Andrew Young the voice of most of Black America. He grouped Booker T. Washington and W.E.B. DuBois together as Capitalist thinkers.He considered Marcus Garvey the voice of more radical separatist. He says Garvey’s Back to Africa movement will not work for the following reasons.

1. Most blacks don’t want to go back to Africa
2. Blacks don’t have enough resources to collective move back to Africa
3. Even if blacks move back to Africa, Imperialist control all the resources.

Ultimately, the Back to Africa movement was not realistic.

1. Banks, W. M. 1996, Black Intellectuals: Race and Responsibility in American Life, New York: W. W. Norton & Company.
2. Randolph, A.P 1917 and Owen, Chandler, Terms of Peace and the Darker Race, Poole Press Association (E-book version on Google Play)
A. Pfeffer, Paula F. (2000). “Randolph; Asa Philip” American National Biography Online. Oxford University Press.
B. “A look at Malcolm X as a mirror for America” New York Times 12-16-1992
Asa Philip Randolph biography on
C. Scott, Daryl (1999) “ Immigrant Indigestion” Center for Immigration Studies
D. Randolph, A.P. “Our Reason for Being” transcript on
E. Transcript of Randolph’s 1963 March on Washington Speech found on

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The Brotherhood of Sleeping Car Porters

Asa Philip Randolph demonstrates to black leaders how to build coalitions. Randolph was also realistic about the limitations of his organization. The realization of his limitations led him to seek strategic alliances. While in these alliances he was able to keep control of his union and stay focused on his goal.

Randolph also understood that some organizations could derail his union. If he were to ally with a group that was too radical he would not only hinder the Brotherhood, he would also put many porters in danger. Randolph sought alliances with other mainstream organizations.

As most of the readers already know, Asa Philip Randolph organized The Brotherhood of Sleeping Car Porters and obtained a charter from the American Federation of Labor (AFL). He was successful in his efforts because he made strategic alliances to increase his power. An evaluation of the porter’s previous attempts to unionize will be used to demonstrate how “going it alone” is not realistic.

The first attempt to create a porter’s union was in 1890 with the Charles Sumner Association. Charles Sumner was a Senator that fought for Civil Rights. The Pullman Company threatened to fire all the porter’s and hire white replacements. The 1890 strike never happened. The second strike threat occurred in 1897, and again the company threatened to hire white replacements to stop the strike. The closest any porter got to making an appeal for higher wages was getting an editorial in a local newspaper in 1901.

The porter’s primary barrier to successful organizing was a lack of money. In the 1920’s a porter made $1,200 a year. The poverty line in the 1920’s was $1,500 a year. So most porters did not have money for savings or union dues. In addition to only making $1,200, tips composed twenty percent of the salary. As anyone that has worked for tips knows, tips fluctuate, leaving the porter in an even more precarious position.

Not having sufficient income made porter’s even more dependent on the Pullman Company. The company had a porter rule book with two hundred and seventeen rules. When that many rules are in place, every worker made numerous transgression every shift. Pullman had grounds to fire a porter at any time. In addition to not having income or job security, a porter would have a difficult time finding new employment. Pullman specifically recruited dark-skinned black people for the porter job. The job market discriminated against dark-skinned people. The loss of a porter job could be a setback that a black man would never recover.

In 1925, Randolph was selected to run the Brotherhood of Pullman Porters. His job is to finally give the porters a much-needed raise and change the rules to allow for porters to stand up to abuse. Randolph faces many of the same problems previous organizers will face. Membership fluctuates because people can not pay their dues. Instead of simply berating members, he went out to find allies with deep pockets.

Randolph sought out donations from liberal white churches. Donations from white churches keep the Brotherhood afloat for the tumultuous early years. Many of these churches were concerned with the welfare of black people. They have established wealthy membership that kept a steady stream of money flowing to the Brotherhood.

The American Federation of Labor (AFL) was another organization courted by Randolph. The AFL was the largest federation of unions at the time and had deep connections with the Democratic party. Both the AFL and the Democratic party had a long history of racism. In the North, blacks were not allowed in most unions. When unions went on strike, black workers would cross the picket line and fill the empty jobs. The AFL and Democratic party often conspired to create laws and reduce funding that would help black people as a way to retaliate.

Randolph knew that the AFL was the only union organization that could give the Brotherhood validity. Affiliation with the AFL would also give Randolph inside information on various initiatives in Congress. Most importantly the AFL could supply the Brotherhood with money in the event of a strike.

The Brotherhood received AFL affiliate status in 1929. The Brotherhood would pay the AFL $0.35 per member. A full AFL membership union only pays $0.01 per member. Many critics saw this not only as a “slap in the face,” but a poor use of scarce resources. Randolph understood that the AFL membership would be a long and arduous road. If the Brotherhood could survive this probationary period, they could obtain real government influence.

The Democratic party heavily pressured the AFL to begin to incorporate black members. The AFL had a long history of segregation in its affiliate unions. At one AFL conference, the group stated its official goal was to protect the livelihoods of native-born white men. The pressure came from the Democratic party’s need to keep control of the mayorship of many major cities, which had sharp increases in their black population. Also, the Democratic party wanted to pull membership away from third parties such as Democratic Socialists and Communists. The Democratic party could reduce the threat of a third party by being more inclusive.

Randolph garnered the most criticism for his introduction of AFL president William Green in Harlem’s Abyssinian Baptist Church. He said Green was the second Abraham Lincoln coming to rescue the black worker from industrial bondage. Many critics used this overly enthusiastic introduction as proof Randolph was using the porters as inroads into the AFL. The AFL had a long history of excluding black people and had not allowed the porters to enter as full members.

The election of Franklin Delano Roosevelt 1932 was the jumpstart that both the Brotherhood and the AFL needed to merge. FDR instituted the National Labor Relations Act in 1935 and expanded the Railway Labor Act to include airlines. These laws set specific procedures to form a union, address grievances, and to go on strike. The introduction of a union-friendly administration increased membership in the Brotherhood of Pullman Porters. It is not a coincidence that the Brotherhood of Sleeping Car Porters got an official charter from the AFL in 1935. Having an administration that was friendly to the cause of black liberation had substantial effects. In 1937, the Brotherhood signed a contract with the Pullman company for higher wages and improved working conditions.

Many of today’s black leaders speak of black people becoming independent. Black organizations talk about divorcing themselves from white money and white members. Historically, completely isolated organizations do not work. It would be advantageous to look at what A. Philip Randolph’s alternatives were in the fight against the Pullman Corporation.

The obvious ally would be various black organizations around at the time most notably, the black church. If all these black organizations “pooled their pennies together” they could have serious money to fight injustices. The only problem with the strategy is that all the other black organizations had similar, if not worse money problems. In fact, Pullman gave generous donations to black churches to help in the fight against the Brotherhood. The Chicago branch of the National Urban League fought against the Brotherhood because of a large Pullman donation. The National Urban League funded most of the black politicians. Therefore, many of Chicago’s black politicians were against unionization. The lack of money in the black community hurts black organizations. Most black organizations are more concerned with getting donations to stay afloat and are willing to compromise ethics to get the donations.

The Brotherhood could have enlisted wealthier members of the black community. There were some prominent members of the black community that could have provided money. However, many felt threatened by the prominence of the porter’s in the black community. The few black professionals in major cities enjoyed being the wealthiest black people in town. If the porters obtained fair wages, they could challenge their status in the community. Most black professionals were deeply invested in Orange Meme striving. They were not interested in helping others.

One could say if you were going to ally with white people at least partner with white people that were integrationist from the beginning. The biggest rival to the AFL at the time was the Industrial Workers of the World (IWW). IWW was integrationist from inception in 1905. One of the founding members, Lucy Parsons, was born a slave in Texas. The IWW wanted to do away with the wage system and put workers in charge of the means of production. The IWW put itself in direct opposition to the AFL that wanted “A fair day’s wage for a fair day’s work.” If the Brotherhood joined IWW, they would have to challenge Pullmans validity in running the railroad.

The IWW radicalism also led to scrutiny by authorities. In 1906, the murder of an Idaho Governor implicated an IWW leader. Citizen accused IWW member of rioting in Butte, Montana in 1914. Migratory farmers were also a large part of the IWW membership. Unfortunately, migratory farmers were looked down upon and blamed for many unsolved crimes. Migratory farmers were called hobos in the 1920’s and viewed negatively by the general public. The activity that put the IWW the most at odds with the Federal government was its outspoken stance against World War I.

Many unionist believe the government systematically targeted the IWW to cause its downfall. Numerous high profile cases plagued the organization from the early 1910’s to 1920’s. By 1925, the organization was a shell of itself. The union will recover in 1960’s, but the 1920’s was a dark time for the IWW. Randolph understood what the IWW was going through and was smart to keep the Brotherhood away.

Eugene V. Debs, one of the founders of the IWW, was a hero of Randolph. Randolph wrote about Debs’ philosophy in college and his first years at “The Messenger.” Even though Randolph personally agreed with the philosophy of the IWW, including the IWW’s stance against war, he knew a partnership would not be practical. Randolph knew how to set his personal feelings aside for the good of the group.

Randolph’s life and work demonstrate effective leadership. It is a model that more black leaders should follow. He understood the limitations of his group and worked with organizations that would complement the Brotherhood. Once Randolph determined which organizations could be of service to him, he put aside his personal feelings a pursued the alliance. His efforts ultimately culminated in the first contract between a black union and a major corporation. Randolph’s pragmatism is something to admire.

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What Is a Pullman Porter?

The Pullman Porter had a pivotal role in the Civil Rights Movement. His official job description was to assist the passengers on the luxurious Pullman Sleeping Car. His real job was to create the black middle class and forge countless organizations. The porter is known primarily for the Brotherhood of Sleeping Car Porters, which marked the first black labor union to sign a contract with a large company. In addition to all the historical accomplishments of the union, the porter provides vital insight into the black experience.

The first point of business is explaining the Pullman Company. The Pullman Company manufactured luxury train cars for overnight travel. The Pullman Company also contracted out the crew to run the car. The crew members were called Sleeping Car Porters. The founder George Pullman began the company after having to sleep in the train chair on an overnight trip to visit relatives. He started to design a car with rooms with full-size beds called berths. Pullman also elicited help from the government to create favorable laws and obtain funding. Pullman befriended the son of Abraham Lincoln, Robert Todd Lincoln while petitioning the government. Lincoln took over the company after the death of George Pullman. Both men were fiercely anti-union regardless of the race of the members.

In the simplest terms, a Pullman Porter is equivalent to airline stewardess with far more responsibilities. A porter would greet the passenger upon entrance to the train, carry the bags, show the passengers around the car, and cater to the various needs of the passenger. Porters acted as babysitters while parents drank, nurses when the elderly passengers were sick, and safety advisors when the tracks got rocky. The porter was always available with a smile to make sure his passenger’s trip was remarkable.

Pullman preferred to hire dark-skinned, tall, thin porter’s from the American South. They needed to be tall to reach the shelves above the berths. He needed to be thin to walk by passengers in the narrow hallway without touching. Southern to be sufficiently submissive, Northern blacks were often too rowdy. The dark-skin was especially important. Dark-skin marked the division between passenger and porter. The passenger needed to see the porter, but the passenger should never be obliged to consider the porter fully human. The porter was “other,” a servant, and he wanted the passenger to see him as such.

The passengers on Sleeping Cars were known for their rambunctiousness. The Pullman Car was one of the most expensive ways to travel at the time. The liquor flowed freely on the train, so much so, that passengers often “found themselves in strangers beds.” A Pullman trip would be equivalent to a modern day cruise.

In addition to most passengers spending a significant amount of time on the journey drunk, the white passenger treated the porter with very little respect. The most notable feature of the disrespect was referring to all porters as “George.” The name harkens back to slavery when slaves received their master’s last name. Since the owner of the company was named George, all his black workers were George by default. Termination was the penalty for not answering to George. The Pullman Manual had two hundred and seventy rules. A porter could never show and any indication that he was angry or hurt by a passenger’s comment.

Even though porters were not allowed to fraternize with the passengers, many passengers made advances on the porters. Sumner Welles was Undersecretary of State in 1940. Welles was exemplary as a diplomat and was picked to succeed the current Secretary of State Cordell Hull. Welles derailed his career by getting drunk and offering a porter money for sex. The porter told superiors, and other porters said Welles made the same advances on them. Various government officials confirmed the story and Welles was not picked to be Secretary of State. A 1977 tell-all memoir was the first utterance of this story.

Not all advances were turned down. Here is a story of a young porter and a bride whose husband had to disembark early from the train. The account comes from Larry Tye’s book Rising from the Rails.

Watching her husband ride off in a covered wagon, she struck up a conversation with [A porter] “You -you know you’re the first Nig-nigger I have ever talked to. Can I? I? – believe all- believe all my mother and father have told me about you people?” she inquired hesitatingly, with a peculiar smile. Her remarks flashed through my mind, bringing with them thing the boys had told me that white people say about niggahs, and I realized what she was suggesting. It’s sure hard to make white people believe that what they say might be true about some of us, but not about the whole race. Still, as the legend is to our advantage, I left my work for an hour, so that it shouldn’t die with me.

Not all white and black interchanges were agreeable. The porter had to find ways to protect himself that did violate company rules. Larry Tye recounts a story from The Autobiography of Malcolm X. Malcolm X worked for a few years as a Pullman Porter before turning to a life of crime and later conversion to Islam.

I remember that once, when some passengers complaints had gotten me a warning, and I wanted to be careful, I was working down the aisle and a big, beefy, red-faced cracker soldier got up in front of me, so drunk he was weaving and announced loud enough that everybody in the car heard him, “I’m going to fight you nigger.” I remember the tension, I laughed and told him, “Sure, I’ll fight, but you’ve got too many clothes on.” He had on a big Army overcoat. He took that off, and I kept laughing and said he still had on too many. I was able to keep that cracker stripping off clothes until he stood there drunk with nothing on from his pants up, and the whole car was laughing at him, and some other soldiers got him out of the way. I went on. I never would forget that – that I couldn’t have whipped that white man as badly with a club as I had with my mind.”

Relations between blacks on the train was also interesting. Because porters had to suppress their anger toward passengers they often lashed out against each other. Often porters would accuse other porters of “cooning.” Cooning is acting overly obliging to get bigger tips. A charge of cooning could come from having too big a smile for too long or the egregious dancing for customer’s amusement. Ultimately, all the porters had to compromise their pride to work for the Pullman company. An arbitrary line separates following orders and cooning. Cooning was always something the other guy did.

The other large part of the Pullman crew was the kitchen staff. To keep with plantation tradition, the kitchen workers were normally light skinned. Often porters would say waiters were soft and did not work hard. Many people will say that this is a remnant of anger from the plantation hierarchy. Light-skinned slaves, commonly descendant of the master, got “easier” jobs in the house. I think that the animosity between porters and kitchen staff was just another way to expel suppressed anger from passenger’s behavior.

Ultimately, kitchen staff and porters worked together. Kitchen staff would save scraps to make stew. Porters would keep an eye out for empty berths to allow the cooks and waiters to get a good night’s sleep. The kitchen staff could easily sneak out before the passengers awakened. In the end, both kitchen staff and porter were on the same team. If they did not work together, they would sink together.

I will detail the formation of The Brotherhood of Sleeping Car Porters in later blog posts. As of now, I will say the contract between Pullman Company and The Brotherhood will be the first time and all black union will force a major company to sign a contract. The victory catapults Brotherhood President A. Philip Randolph to national acclaim. He uses his fame to make the National Negro Congress, which is a militant alternative to the NAACP. The National Negro Congress folds due to internal conflict. He learns many leadership lessons from the organization and begins a campaign to desegregate the government and military.

To rally support, Randolph rallies crowds around the idea of a March on Washington. Originally, Randolph was going to get 10,000 people to demonstrate in Washington, DC. Once he started relaying the idea to crowds across the country people from all over the nation and of all political persuasions. Randolph officially set the date of the march on June 27, 1941.

Franklin D. Roosevelt did not want a public demonstration at this time. FDR was attempting to gain support for joining in the fight in World War II. He was also afraid that communist would cause a disturbance in the rally and put American race relations on a world stage. FDR met with Randolph to come to a compromise that would allow for Randolph to call off the march. The result was Executive Order 8802 which desegregated the defense industry government and contractor. Two days before the March on Washington 1941 was to happen it was called off.

Randolph does not just fold up shop and go home. He expands the March on Washington Movement. He builds a March on Washington headquarters in all major American cities. The March on Washington protest take place all over the country for twenty years, and it causes change at the local level. On the national level, the March on Washington Movement forced Truman to sign Executive Order 9981, finally desegregating the military. The last March on Washington was in 1963. Dr. King’s gives his “I Have A Dream” speech at this rally.

Dr. King owes much of his career to Randolph and Ed Nixon. Ed Nixon was President of the Montgomery Branch of the Brotherhood of Sleeping Car Porters. Because Nixon was running the Brotherhood and various Montgomery political organization, Ed Nixon recommends Dr. King to run the Montgomery Bus Boycott. The boycott lasts for over a year. Dr. King proves to Nixon he has potential and Nixon introduces him to Randolph. Randolph and his team gave Dr. King the tutelage he needed to lead the movement.

In addition to providing an organizational template and leaders, the Brotherhood provided funding for various organizations in the Civil Rights Movement. Randolph’s motto was, “ Whoever pays the piper calls the tune.” For a black organization to be truly independent, it had to be funded by black people. Malcolm X echoes the same sentiment in later years. Randolph would often invite Malcolm to his personal residence to tell him stories of the Harlem’s socialist movement and talk about politics. A. Philip Randolph and other black leaders including Elijah Muhammad started blacks down the road to self-determination.

The Pullman Porter has a dubious legacy in the minds of Black America. On the one hand, they had a servile role and had to take abuse without fighting back directly. On the other hand, they laid the foundation for the Civil Rights Movement of the 1960’s. I feel the Pullman Porter is the ultimate symbol of the black middle class. Often we work in jobs in which we are under-utilized and treated with disrespect. Not to the same extent as the porter, but disrespect nonetheless. We do that to support the aspirations of our family and those that want to fight white supremacy directly. The fight against white supremacy takes many forms. Blacks have to utilize many methods to fight it. The porter was one of the most cunning soldiers in this battle.

The information for this blog post comes from Larry Tye’s book Rising From The Rails

For more information on the Pullman Porters please vist the official museum. HERE

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Interview with Milind Sangre of Sakal Newspaper

Commentary on Robert Williams

Dr. Martin Luther King

Dr. King addressed the use of violence for self-defense in two speeches. One in 1959 and the other in 1962. In these speeches, he detailed how merely passing legislation does not translate into freedom for masses of people. Brown vs. Board of Education passed in 1954, yet few schools integrated. Many civil rights campaigns have led to limited integration in a few locales. An extended campaign of non-violent direct action undertaken by the masses is needed to ensure full integration and citizenship rights.

There were three philosophical schools of thought on violence. The first was the King/ Gandhi school of non-violent direct action. This method was seen as the most moral and is opposed to violence, even in self-defense. Because non-violent direct action took so much discipline and spiritual strength, it was difficult for people to join in the efforts. The second school allows for self-defense. As Gandhi said, self-defense is moral and acceptable for those who could not master non-violent direct action. The last school is the use of violence for advancement, warfare. King saw warfare as immoral.

King feared that Black people initially using violence in self-defense would devolve into warfare and vengeance-seeking. Neutralizing a small ban of rebellious blacks would be far easier the countering masses of non-violent protesters. Violence will end in the slaughter of people on both sides and the continued degradation and isolation of Blacks.

Only non-violent direct action can turn opponents’ hearts on civil rights and build the foundation of a new integrated society, as seen in India. It has also worked in Monroe, North Carolina, where authorities jailed a Black doctor. A non-violent protest freed him. The strategy can work if the masses of black people commit to resisting unjust laws.

In the speech given in 1959, King specifically addresses Robert Williams’s criticism. Williams accused King of only encouraging Blacks to be non-violent while being silent on America’s use of violence to suppress communism. King affirms he is against the use of violence by all actors. He opposed the war and the atomic bomb.

Truman Nelson

Truman Nelson wrote many books on the abolitionist movement. He compared the methods of Dr. King and Robert Williams to the abolitionists of the 1800s. He concluded that Mr. Williams’s efforts most parallel the abolitionist, and King’s strategy was incomplete.

Both William Lloyd Garrison and Henry David Thoreau began as pacifists. However, once they saw slaveholders use violence to hold on to power, they pivoted in favor of self-defense. Garrison went as far as supporting warfare in the case of John Brown’s raid. Oppressors never give up power unless forced.

Nelson also differentiates between vowing not to protect oneself versus not protecting others. It could be seen as moral to not fight back in self-defense, but cowardice cannot defend one’s brother. Gandhi went as far as to say “rivers of blood may flow, but let it be our (Indian) blood.” Is Gandhi showing moral superiority by sacrificing his fellow Hindus? What gives him the authority to make such a decision. One could ask the same question of King when he says protesters “should go to jail as a bridegroom enters the bride chambers.” Southern jails are known for torturing and assaulting prisoners. How can he ask his followers to go through this avoidable trauma?

The below quote sums up Truman Nelson’s view of non-violence for the Black Americans.

The American Negro is not a downtrodden Hindu, a palpitating mass of ingrained and inborn submission to being put in his place, a citizen of a land so impoverished and barren that a lifetime of abject starvation is the common lot, a land where living is so hard most want a God so they can hate him. 

The American Negro is a citizen of a rich land, with a citizen’s rights and duty to resist all attempts to deprive him of its manifold blessings. Why should he be urged to go through this Hinduizing to regain the rights he already won in 1776?

Marc Schleifer

Marc Schleifer wrote “A socialist plea for Black Nationalism” and was a writer for many socialist publications. He said Robert Williams would fit into the radical left labor traditions very easily. The old left holding onto the New Deal, opposes black militancy. Their way is dead as the New Deal loses more effectiveness every day. The new, more radical left can learn from Robert Williams. Black militancy is a new way forward for racial equality.

Robert F. William Philosophy

Robert F. Williams believed the Civil Rights Movement’s primary goal should be expanding economic opportunity. The equality he sought involved Black people not being hindered in economic advancement. Access to public accommodations was important but only as a preliminary step. His ten-point plan issued to Monroe County Government in 1961 best details his beliefs.

  1. Induce factories in this county to hire without discrimination.
  2. Induce the local employment agency to grant Non-Whites the same privileges given to Whites
  3. Instruct the Welfare Agency that Non-Whites are entitled to the same privileges, courtesies and consideration given to Whites.
  4. Construct a swimming pool in the Winchester Ave Area of Monroe
  5. Remove all signs in the city of Monroe designating one area from Colored and another for Whites.
  6. Desegregate the schools within one year.
  7. Provide adequate transportation for all school children.
  8. Formally request the Dr. Perry be reinstated to the state medical boards. His license was stripped for political reasons
  9. Employ Negros as supervisors in city government
  10. Act immediately on all these proposals

Other than the reinstatement of Dr. Perry and building a separate swimming pool, all the demands center on economic justice. Not only training through schools but access to jobs and government assistance programs.

Dr. King’s movement before 1961 focused on desegregating one local institution at a time. Mr. Williams applauds King’s efforts in the Montgomery Bus Boycott but realizes it was a small local victory. It did nothing to change Blacks’ plight in the rest of the country or the financial stability of Blacks in Montgomery. Ultimately, most Whites were wealthy enough to afford a car, so they didn’t care if blacks rode on the front of the bus.

What would it matter if a person is banned from going to restaurants if they never had enough money to go out. Economic justice made expanded accommodations matter. That is why those that push for economic justice will have far more resistance from the establishment. When the government turns on those advocating for progress, the only recourse is self-defense.

To be clear, Robert Williams did support and use non-violent direct action. He used a picket line to shut down the Monroe pool in 1957 and 1961. However, once counter-protesters began using violence, and the police refused to stop them, Williams saw he had to modify his tactics. The arming of the picketers forced the police to re-establish law and order. It reduced the violence an accelerated resolution. Once the establishment realized the continued conflict could result in the death of Whites. They found to compromise a suitable means of resolution.

Essentially, Williams differed from King because he saw non-violent direct action as a tactic not a way of life. The movement had to be flexible to be effective. If a situation arises when only a peaceful protest is needed, great. However, when the lives of friends and family are in danger, black people have just as much of a right as our colonial predecessors for self-defense. It is only when blacks decide to defend themselves are people upset.

Two weeks after Monroe’s Blacks defended the home of Dr. Perry, the Klan attacked a town of Native Americans. The press praised the natives’ ability to fight off the Kluxers but were silent on Monroe’s defense. The press understands if Blacks across the nation realize their power, they could shut the country down. There are not enough Natives to cripple the nation.

Blacks must overcome the fear that resistance would lead to annihilation. We are a strong and savvy people just as capable of defense as any other. Even when Blacks rebel on a small scale as they did in Detroit, the local economy was brought to its knees. If a large scale rebellion happened all over the country, American production would be brought to a standstill. The world would take notice, and many would aid Blacks in their struggle.

Violence for revenge is never condoned by Mr. Williams. He supported violence in self-defense. In a civilized society, where law and order existed for all citizens, passive resistance will be enough for change. However, the South was far from civilized. The idea that moral suasion could influence southern Whites was not realistic. These Whites didn’t feel shame for how they treated Blacks.

In summary, self-defense does these four things. First, it weakens the enemy and incentivizes granting concessions because they understand White life will be lost. Second, it reduces violence from racists. Lastly, it draws world attention to the atrocities of the South. Once the world sees that Blacks are strong people willing to defend themselves, they will win the respect of people worldwide.

Violence is deeply ingrained in racism. Without violence, there would be no reason for anyone to adhere to the system. Racism permeates every area of American life. In Monroe, blacks had a separate pet cemetery. Even in the death of pets, the races had to be pure. Violence will be needed to rid America of racism.

The current push for black militancy is being subverted by the Black elite and White liberals. White liberals fund mainstream black liberation organizations such as the NAACP and SCLC. They do not want Blacks to understand their power. White liberals are paying for Black pacifism. They are paying to keep us weak.

The Black Elite go along with the plan to live a luxurious life and garner fame. Most mainstream Civil Rights leaders are sell-outs no different from the blacks that drive Cadillacs with anti-integration slogans painted on the side. They also worry that Blacks would lose their jobs. More precisely, they are worried they will lose their job of corralling Blacks.

If the elitist supported pacifism, they would criticize America’s use of war in foreign policy. They would speak out against the use of the atomic bomb and police brutality. If you only want Blacks to be pacifists, you are only sending them off to slaughter.

Luckily there are many beside Robert Williams working to awaken Blacks. Elijah Muhammad was called out by name as a man encouraging Blacks to fight back. These new leaders build coalitions with working-class Black people. These true grassroots movements are more representative of our struggle. These movements bring in the youth and divert their attention away from gang activities and other immoral behaviors.

Ultimately, the new phase of the Civil Rights Movement will be self-defense. The awakening movement includes blacks from all walks of life. Down with the old and impotent elite. Williams will usher in a new day.

Williams in Exile and Back Home

After fleeing lynching in Monroe, NC, Robert Williams goes to Canada, Mexico, and finally settled in Cuba. Cuba treated him as a celebrity, the hero that defended Monroe. Fidel Castro saw to it he had a luxury apartment and a chauffeur. Williams and his family lived in the lap of luxury. The Cuban government also allowed him to have a radio show broadcast at 50,000 Watts, known as Radio Free Dixie.

The show lasted an hour, and they played the best in contemporary Jazz and Blues. They also talked about many topics involving Civil Rights and Black Empowerment. Much of the programming was Anti-American. The government did not protect Black people’s rights, so there was no reason to fight for a democracy that did not include them. When the station began, it could be heard from Cuba to Canada.

It was one of the only platforms in which Blacks could speak freely. Williams wanted to make Radio Free Dixie a conduit to a new Black militancy. It was not communist or nationalist. Williams considered his philosophy internationalist. He had no problem working with Whites, yet he was realistic that few Whites wanted to work for the betterment of Black people. Black people have to make their own way and fight whoever opposed them.

The Cuban Communist Party also allowed “The Crusader” to circulate circulated from Havana. The now monthly periodical continued the same message that it had when it began in North Carolina, self-reliance. An underground network of socialists and Black nationalists distributed the paper.

However, Williams’s principle of freely speaking would get him into trouble with the Communist Party. He criticized the party for not having enough Blacks in leadership positions. When he was told to quieten down he replied he had never been a Tom and didn’t want to start now. The Communists also didn’t like the radio station playing Jazz. Jazz was born in America, and as an American product it was automatically imperialist and had no place on a Communist station.

The mission of Black Empowerment was not conducive to a communist agenda of class war. The working class must unite to overthrow the Capitalist of America. Therefore the proletariat class must always be addressed as a unit. Since race divided the class, racial discussion was counter-productive. Once the proletariat takes over, race would end because race is a social construct used for economic exploitation.

The poor white of Monroe showed that the white working class was more willing to capitulate with the wealthy than unite with Black people. Williams lived experience made it difficult to accept that there would ever be a unified opposition to Capital. He stuck to his guns in making a separate Black liberation movement.

The communists did not understand cultural nuance. That is why they didn’t understand Jazz was anti-imperialist. The art form was created by Blacks in America in part to fight oppression. Communism forced cultural assimilation into a population. The lack of understanding of Black culture prevented Communism from growing in the Black community. Most Blacks would never sign onto a philosophy that forced them to let go of their identity.

Radio Free Dixie had its wattage reduced because it would not comply with the Communist Party. The American Central Intelligence Agency jammed the signal to the few places it was broadcast. The show was taped and distributed through underground networks to get the message out. The show was a big hit in California, where it impacted Bobby Seale and Huey Newton. These men would later form the Black Panther Party.

The writing was on the wall, and it was time to leave Cuba. An opportunity arose to help the North Vietnamese in their war effort. He helped the Vietcong set up a propaganda station to get soldiers to defect from the army. He met and talked with Ho Chi Minh, who also spent time in Harlem. They were able to trade stories, and Ho told Williams about his love for Black Nationalist leader Marcus Garvey.

While he was making moves in Vietnam, he sent his children to study in China in 1964. He had some of the earliest correspondence with Mao Tse Tung. Mao credited him as his inspiration in writing a letter in support of the Black Freedom Struggle in August 1963. Williams was able to win an invitation to China by Mao as a distinguished guest in 1965. William would not only live in the lap of luxury in China but also be an insider in Chinese politics. He got to see all the inter-workings of the palace. As one of the only Americans with an inside view of China, he would become valuable.

Robert Williams had always longed to come back to America. His longing grew as the Black Power movement became more popular. He kept correspondence with many Black leaders, such as Kwame Ture. The Revolutionary Action Movement (RAM) and the Republic of New Africa (RNA) named Williams president in exile. In the Spring of 1969, the most unlikely source answered Williams’s prayers.

Richard Nixon was attempting to open trade relations with China. There were few Americans that knew about the inner workings of the palace. The need for insider information motivated Nixon to get the charges dropped on Williams. He came back to Detroit and consulted on Chinese Affairs through the Ford Foundation for a year. After he bought a farm, he retired to a remote location in Michigan. He died at the age of 71 from Hodgkins Disease. Rosa Parks spoke at his funeral, and she said it was great to see a true revolutionary make it to old age.

The Stegalls and Robert Williams’s Flight from Monroe

After a night of interracial gunfights, a group of concerned Black people gathered at the home of Robert Williams. Many wanted to storm the jail and free the Freedom Riders who had not received medical attention. Others wanted revenge for years of assault from the White community.

Williams understood how volatile the situation was and wanted to keep everyone busy. He instructed members to erect barricades around the Black section in Newton. He ordered those he felt has the best judgment to act as guards. Williams anticipated Whites would attack his home as they did Dr. Albert Perry a few years earlier.

A machine gun positioned itself outside William’s home. A dog house in William’s backyard served as a marker for a box of dynamite. Williams dug the box up and distributed sticks to various members of the defense force. After all the proper precautions were made in anticipation of an attack, Williams felt it best to remind his followers why they were here. He gave a speech reminding people that they were here only for self-defense. In no way would they take revenge on all White people.

Mabel Williams, Robert’s wife, did everything she could to prevent the coming attack. She called Governor Terry Sanford that he deploy state troopers to keep the peace. Little did she know Sanford had already asked for troops. It was the opinion of Sanford that Williams was trying to provoke an assault. Years later, in an interview, Sanford admitted he wanted to find a way to remove Robert Williams from Monroe without killing him. There was no intention of improving the life of Blacks in Monroe.

State Troopers barricaded the border of Newton, NC. However, a White couple Bruce and Mabel Stegall “accidentally” wander into Newton close to the home of Robert Williams around 6:00 PM on August 27, 1961. A crowd formed around the car and held them at gunpoint. Both Bruce and Mabel were pulled from their car. Many in the group recognized the car as the one that bore a sign that said “Open Season on Coons” a week prior. The mob brought the Stegalls to the home of Robert Williams.

When they brought the couple to Robert Williams house they wanted him to lead in the lynching. Williams refused and reinforced the idea they were fighting for self-defense, not revenge. The Stegalls pleaded with Williams to save them, and he replied that he did believe the Stegalls were there to spy on Newton’s defenses. It is unclear what happens next. In Williams’s autobiography, he said the Stegalls followed him in the house. The police said the Stegalls were drug into the house. Either way, had Stegalls stayed in the front lawn, they would have been lynched on Williams’s property.

At this time, Williams decided to call Police Chief Mauney to see if the Freedom Riders had received medical attention. The Police Chief told Williams that he had caused much racial trouble, and he would be hanging from the courthouse square in thirty minutes. The Chief also warned Williams not to hurt the Stegalls. Never fearful Williams fired back that if protesters did not receive care soon, he would march on the jail and free them himself.

After getting off the phone with the police Williams realized he could be accused of kidnapping the Stegalls. The threat of harm to the Stegalls motivated the police to get medical treatment for James Farmer and the Freedom Riders. William will find this out later. After two hours in Williams’s home, the Stegalls were snuck out and went back home. After the immediate danger had left, Williams realized what a mess he had on his hands.

Williams and his defense force were ready to repel a Ku Klux Klan attack. He was not ready to fight state troopers and national guard. Several unmarked caravans were pulling into the neighboring county of Monroe. Williams senses there would be a bloodbath. To save himself and his family, he decided to flee through the woods. He had an escape plan ready, and Julian Mayfield picked him up at a disclosed location. They drove to Harlem.

The FBI put out a warrant against Williams for kidnapping because he held the Stegalls for two hours. He found a safe house in Harlem but understood he needed to flee the country. He was able to use his “Fair Play for Cuba” and Socialist Workers Party connections to get to Canada. Canada had an extradition treaty with the United States, so the Royal Mounted Police also hunted for him. Once in Canada, he was able to sneak on a plane to Mexico, then to his final destination of Cuba.

The Freedom Riders go to Monroe

Monroe, NC, had been in the national news since “The Kissing Case” of 1958. The most prominent Civil Rights leader in Monroe was a man named Robert Williams. Williams was different than other Civil Rights leaders at the time because he preached self-reliance, not non-violent direct action. Williams believed Black people needed to defend themselves from the white attacks. He had built a defense force in Monroe to repel the Ku Klux Klan attacks. Self-defense, also known as self-reliance, was necessary because the police would not defend Black residents. Not only did the police not protect Black residents, they often fought alongside Ku Klux Klan.

Those that believed in non-violent direct action (NVDA) wanted to prove the method worked in Monroe. Both Dr. King of the Southern Christian Leadership Conference (SCLC)and James Farmer of the Congress of Racial Equality (CORE) had taken an interest in having a demonstration to show that peaceful methods could convert the most belligerent of opponents. There was a rift beginning to form in the Civil Rights Movement between those who say NVDA as a way of life and saw it only as a tactic. Williams was the champion of those that only saw non-violence as a tactic. NVDA should be discarded once it was proven not to work in a specific situation.
Williams was planning to make a serious push for economic justice in Monroe. He would release a ten-point economic equality plan that included opening up jobs and government aid to Blacks. James Farmer decided to demonstrate in Monroe to test the waters by having his Freedom Riders protest at city hall.

The Freedom Riders arrived in Charlotte on August 17, 1961. The group created the Monroe Non-Violent Direct Action Committee in which members vow to stay non-violent even if Whites attack them. Robert Williams refused to join because he understood how viciousness of the White people of Monroe. If one advertised they would not fight back, the Whites would beat them mercilessly. Williams led a successful sit-in protest in Monroe months earlier. No one was spit on or attacked at the Monroe sit-in because Whites knew the protesters would fight back.

One of the Freedom Riders was Constance Lever from the London School of Economics. She stayed in the home of Robert Williams. The first demonstration happened at Monroe Courthouse Square on August 21, 1961. That day they also protested in front of the fire station run by father of the future Senator Jesse Helms. He threatened to shot the protesters. There was also a plan to protest in front of the mayor’s office. He had his sidewalk replaced to avoid an incident.

The protest at Monroe Courthouse Square continued for the rest of the workweek. On August 26, hundreds of counter-protesters come to intimidate the Freedom Riders. Weekend protests were often dangerous because more people were off of work. Many would come to counter-protests drunk and ready to start a fight. Monroe also made an ordinance that all protesters must keep 15 feet away from one another. This law was arbitrary and only used to arrest protesters. There were a few skirmishes between protesters and counter-protesters, but luckily a black man that lived close by came with a firearm. Once he fired in the air, the counter-protesters scattered. James Farmer got a police escort to follow the protesters home.

The protest continued on Sunday. This time with an even angrier mob out front. James Farmer arranged for a cab to pick the protesters up at 4:30 sharp. Most of the day was relatively peaceful until counter-protesters began to beat up two Freedom Riders, one of which was Constance Lever. Farmer grabs Lever and attempts to put her in the can and drive her to safety. That when a counter-protester pulled a gun on Farmer and said he was not getting in a car with a white woman. Another protester hit Farmer with the but of his shotgun, splattering blood on Farmer and Lever. Whites surrounded the car threatening to kill Farmer. A white police officer pushed both Lever and Farmer in the car and drove them to the police station to be arrested.

Police begin to arrest the rest of the protesters. The police would hold protesters while Whites beat them before the arrest. A black protester named Richard Griswold was jailed with a White man whose father was killed by a Black man. Griswold was beaten mercilessly in prison. Police refused to give medical aid to injured protesters.

That night gun battles ensued between Blacks and Whites. Novelist Julian Mayfield even provided cover fire for Blacks fleeing a white assault. White Supremacist conducted drive-by shootings in Black neighborhoods. A crowd of Black gathered in front of the home of Robert Williams. Many wanted to storm the jail and free the Freedom Riders. Others wanted revenge on Whites. The decisions of Robert Williams in the next 48 hours would change the course of history.

The International Robert Williams

Cuba was a hotbed of controversy in the early 1960s. The nation was communists, so the American mainstream saw it as a sign of the USSR’s growing influence. American leftists saw it as a testing ground for the ideology they professed. Black America had a different perspective.
For years, any movement to further integration was considered Communist. For example, the NAACP was disparaged in many southern newspapers as Communist-inspired even though no one on the board was a communist.

Many Black people stopped viewing Communism negatively. They took the fact that Communism was lumped into the freedom struggle to mean both wanted to end the current Jim Crow system. Others ignored the label of Communist and judged the actions of an institution on its merit.
Once one understands why Black America had an opposing view on Communism, it is easy to understand why 1/3 of the founding members of Fair Play for Cuba were Black. Robert Williams was among such notable names as John Henrik Clarke and James Baldwin on his first trip to Cuba, which began on June 9, 1960.

Williams took a special interest because Black Press portrayed in Cuba as a haven of racial equality. Many Black Cubans participated in the revolution and had a high rank in the military. The Cuban Revolution could serve as a model for a future Black revolution. In addition to dethroning an oppressive and racist government, Cuba integrated schools and other public institutions. The idea of an integrated society had only existed in theory until now.

While in Cuba, an American reporter asked if Williams would give up his American citizenship. He replied he never had it. Anytime he wanted to advance in society, the government prevented it. When he needed protection, the government never came to his aid. Another reported asked how it felt to hear Cubans chant “Cuba Yes, Yankee No.” Williams asked the reporter how he felt seeing “Whites Only Signs” or how it felt to be in a work gang for leading a sit-in protest.

When the Fair Play for Cuba delegation left Robert Williams received a Cuban flag that he would later fly under the American flag at his own home. It was just the best of many Cuban souvenirs that would decorate his home. He returned to North Carolina to praise the greatest democracy on earth in his newspaper The Crusader.

NAACP Stands Against Militancy

Two legal cases would lead Robert Williams to create the first school of Black Militancy in the Civil Rights era. The first case was against Brodus F. Shaw. He was a White man who kicked a Black maid, Georgia Davis White, down a flight of stairs who disturbed his sleep. Once Georgia White pressed charges against Shaw, racist began a smear campaign to discredit Mrs. White. All levels of state government were involved in her smearing. The North Carolina Attorney General provided investigators, free of charge, to find dirt on White. The investigation discovered that Mrs. White did not report $4.00 in earnings two years before she applied for unemployment. Local authorities arrested her.

The second case was the assault of Mary Ruth Reed by Lewis Medlin. Medlin came to Reed’s house drunk and attempted to force his way in to rape her. Reed was there alone with children because her husband was at work. She was also several months pregnant at the time. She ran with her four-year-old out the back door. Medlin gave chase and caught Reed. Her four-year-old son struck Medlin in the back with a stick to allow his mother to escape. They found refuge in the house of a white neighbor.

The Blacks of Monroe did not believe the government would protect these women. A Black lynch mob formed to seek revenge on the perpetrators. Robert Williams stopped the lynch mob from taking the law into their own hands. He told the crowd he could use his connections in the NAACP and the Committee to Confront Racial Injustice (CCRI) to get two convictions. Of the two organizations, only the CCRI sent lawyers.

May 5, 1959, both the Shaw and Medlin case went to court. Shaw, the man who pushed the maid down the flight of stairs, got his charges dropped even though he didn’t show up to court. Medlin’s defense team used the idea that a White man would never leave a White woman for a Black woman to save him. Medlin admitted to going to Reed’s house while intoxicated but never said he intended to rape her. Reed even had the White neighbor corroborate her version of events. In the end, none of it mattered. Medlin was found not guilty of all charges.

The Black women of Monroe were furious. Not only was there no justice dispensed on those that assaulted these women, but the court showed that there would be no consequences for their attacks. It was now open season on Black women. One woman told Williams this was all his fault. If he had let the lynch mob form, at least these women would have received some justice.

Right after Monroe’s Black women chastised Williams, he had to give an interview to United Press International. Monroe had made national headlines due to the Kissing Case a year prior. Williams is asked to share his thought on losing both cases. He explains that there are no laws to protect the Blacks of North Carolina. Due to the complete breakdown of law, Blacks would have to meet violence with violence going forward. They would meet lynching with lynching.

It goes without saying that his statement angered many in the NAACP. The head of the NAACP Roy Wilkins asked Robert Williams if he was quoted correctly. Williams replied in the affirmative and said he still stood by his statements. He clarified he was speaking for himself and not the NAACP. Wilkins explained that it does matter how he meant his words; the public would take it as an NAACP statement. Wilkins then suspended Williams. In defiance, Williams told Wilkins the NAACP hadn’t done anything to help Monroe Blacks anyway.

Thus began the first push for militancy in the Civil Rights Movement. Roy Wilkins distanced himself from Robert Williams in subsequent press conferences. Robert Williams clarifies his position at the same time. Williams makes clear he did not want vengeful violence against Whites. He only supports violence as a means of self-defense. Law and order had broken down in the rural south. Self-defense was the only way to ensure the safety of themselves and their families. Black Militancy is not rooted in hate for White people, but love for self and community. The Blacks of Monroe’s need to defend themselves was no different than the motivation of the colonists to protect themselves from British oppression.

The 1959 NAACP convention held July 13 – 19th held the hearing on Williams’s suspension. The issue was contentious. It caused a divide between the national and local leaders. The national leaders were afraid a militant stance could hurt their ability to get funding. If public opinion falls, not only would they lose funding, they would also have a harder time winning cases. The position of non-violence was the most politically pragmatic.

The local leaders felt the NAACP did not send enough aid to local cases that would not get national headlines. They were left to fend for themselves. Besides, even when they won civil rights cases, it often didn’t mean policy changed locally. There had been little progress on school integration since winning Brown v Board, in 1954. The NAACP was unable to improve their lives, and people questioned if the national office was inept or unconcerned.

Due to the NAACP national not getting tangible results, many were looking for alternative methods. One was Dr. King’s Non-Violent Direct Action. This method required breaking unjust laws. The NAACP opposed this method because they brought on unwinnable cases. The NAACP wanted to argue cases to the Supreme Court to force them to change the law. If the defendant knowingly broke the law, the NAACP could do nothing to win the case.

The second method was Robert William’s Black self-defense. Many that opposed the national office also supported self-defense. Others felt even self-defense could lead to mass slaughter. So the opposition to Roy Wilkins was not solidified. Various opponents had different agendas that reduced the opposition’s ability to build enough delegates to oppose the suspension. Because the opposition unified, they were able to distribute a pamphlet titled “The single issue in Robert Williams case.” The pamphlet framed Robert Williams as a case of mob violence versus legal action. The booklet portrayed Williams as a hot-head, leading Blacks in Monroe to annihilation. Even Martin Luther King spoke against Williams, further dividing opposition to Wilkins.

Robert Williams still had a broad base of support. It was also crucial that Roy Wilkins not only win the vote but win overwhelmingly to show benefactors that the organization was united. The delegates got together and decided on a compromise. Robert Williams’s suspension would be upheld 781 – 0, but the NAACP would also have to create a statement affirming the individual right to self-defense.

Two years later, during the seventh anniversary of Brown v Board of education (May 17, 1961), the NAACP held a rally in Harlem. Due to many of Robert Williams’s fundraising activities and advocacy for “The Kissing Case,” Harlem was home base of support for him. When Roy Wilkins took the stage, many in the crowd booed and jeered, demanding Robert Williams speak. Daisy Bates even took the podium to calm the crowd down. They shouted her down also. Finally, they found Robert Williams, who was in attendance and had him take the stage. From his impromptu speech, this was the most notable line: “Better to live upright for 30 seconds than 1000 years crawling”. The crowd went wild and carried him off on their shoulders. Williams’s integrity and tenacity built a base of support that all the lawyers at the NAACP could only wish.

The 1961 Pool Protest

The first protest to integrate the Monroe pool happened in 1957. That protest ended in the Ku Klux Klan attacking the home of the president of the NAACP and the NAACP fighting them off with rifles. Every year after, there was a summer protest at the pool. But Robert Williams decided to make a determinative stand in 1961. He went to Harlem to raise funds to buy guns to protect the protesters in the event of Kluxer retaliation.

The protest began on June 18, 1961, when Robert Williams brought twelve Black teenagers to the pool to protest. They stayed outside and picketed because the pool personnel denied them entry. The picket continued for a few days. Then on June 22, Whites brought guns and fired into the air to intimidate protesters. Williams doubled down and said that the city council has to integrate the current pool or make plans to create a black pool. If the council did nothing he and his protester would stage a “wade-in” the next day.

Protesters stopped to eat lunch at a neighboring park at 3 pm on June 23. They ate at a picnic table labeled “Whites Only.” They heard shots whiz past their heads. Williams alerted the local policemen that witnessed the scene. They refused to do anything. Then Williams and company decided to head home to call the Justice Department to see if they would intervene.

A much larger De Soto followed the Hillman driven by Williams on his return home. The driver of the De Soto rammed Williams at 70 mph running him off the road. The De Soto speed off. Williams attempted to file a police report on the incident and the police again refused to act. It was not until Williams relayed the story to the press that the police were shamed into acting on the incident.

June 25 the protesters decided to go back to the pool. This time their car was rammed by an old Ford Truck. The truck’s windows had been removed, and it looked like it was ready for the demolition derby. The man in the truck ran Williams off the road again and came out with a baseball bat threatening to attack. But this time, Williams come out of the car with an Italian rifle. His two associates had pistols. A mob of Whites then formed around the car.

Because Williams and his company were armed, they held everyone at bay. The police arrived and tried to disarm Williams. He pushed the policeman to the ground, pointed his rifle at him, and told him there was no way he was surrendering to a mob. The police then dispersed the mob and allowed Williams to go to the pool. That night Williams barricades his house and prepared for a Kluxer attack. It never came.

The next Saturday Williams went out to deliver his newspaper “The Crusader” when he was pulled over by police. They tell him his taillight is damaged and they must arrest him. Of course, a Kluxers ramming his car twice the week prior damaged his taillight. Williams knew if the police arrest him, they will lynch him in jail. He said he will not go to jail in the policeman’s car. He would follow them in his own car to the jail. The police agree. Once near his home, he made a run for his house the police give chase.

Once at home his wife Mabel sees him frantically trying to untie their dog to aid in his defense from the police. She ran outside with a shotgun. She saw the police and held them at gunpoint and asked what was happening. The police say they want to arrest him for a taillight being out. Mabel replies they should have arrested the men that ran him off the road. If they did not have a warrant, they had to leave. The police see the shotgun pointed at them and decide to retreat.

For full series click Robert Williams Series

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