Search

Black Leadership Analysis

This is an unofficial Spiral Dynamics blog. It is not endorsed by D. Beck PhD.

Tag

Black History Month

Robert Lee Hill (1892 – 1963)

(1892 – 1963)

Accomplishments

  • Founded the Progressive Farmers and Household Workers Union of America
  • Worked for Santa Fe Railway for forty years
  • Member of Topeka Kansas NAACP

The Elaine Massacre

Robert Lee Hill founded the Progressive Farmers and Household Workers Union of America in Arkansas in 1919. The founding of the union led to the Elaine Massacre that left somewhere between 250 to 850 black people dead and four or five white men dead. The Elaine Massacre is part of the Red Summer of 1919. The Red Summer consisted of numerous race riots in various cities and towns in America. The Elaine Massacre also led to the landmark Moore vs. Dempsey trial that will solidify the Fourteenth Amendment of the Constitution.

Robert L. Hill was born in 1892 or 1898 [9] to working class parents. He married in 1916 [9] before going off to war. Hill was a World War I veteran [4]. His time served in the military, more than likely, led to his militancy. 370,000 blacks that fought in World War I [1], when they returned home, they were not afraid to stand up for their rights. Black WWI vets let many armed resistance movements in 1919 in major cities. When Hill returned home, he worked for Valley Planting Company.[9]

Even though Hill was not a sharecropper himself, he felt called to do something to help the sharecropper’s plight. A sharecropper, also known as a tenant farmer, is a person that rents a farm from a land owner. The sharecropper then lives on credit from the landlord until the harvest arrives. The landowner and tenant then agree to share the crop. The tenant gets a percentage of the crop, and so does the landowner. The farmer can then pay off the debt to the landowner and have enough profit to last the winter after the sale of the crop.

Unfortunately, in the southern cotton industry, this ideal scenario never plays out. Often sharecroppers were illiterate and uneducated so they could not evaluate the books to ensure they got their share of the crop. The landlord would not let the sharecropper see the books even if the sharecropper had an education. Because blacks had no legal recourse, landlords would confiscate the entire crop. Ultimately, the sharecropper stayed in perpetual debt.

Not only did debt keep black people in the cotton industry, so did the law. The black codes made it illegal for a black man to be without a job for an extended period. Most companies outside the cotton industry did not hire black people. The person would be forced into a work camp if convicted of vagrancy, not having a job. The work camp would force inmates to pick cotton.

The need for a union was evident. 1919 was one of the worst times for the Labor Movement. The Russian Revolution happened in 1917 and by 1918 Russia was a communist country. The revolution began as a prolonged labor strike that turned into a riot. When the Russian army was called in to stop the riot, the army joined the rebels. The Tsar had to abdicate and the world’s first communist republic was born. Many American capitalists were afraid the same thing could happen in America.

The labor movement was also not welcoming to black people. The American Federation of Labor’s (AFL) 1919 convention declared the job of the AFL was to protect the jobs of “native-born white men” and upheld the restrictions on blacks joining unions. [2] This declaration ultimately hurt the labor movement. Blacks in the North broke strike lines to work at factories. Blacks were used to dilute the power of the Union. The racial strife in the North can be traced back to fear of blacks crossing picket lines.

The cotton industry expected a downturn in 1919[4][1]. World War I ended in 1918 and the southern cotton industry had been supplying cotton for the allied troops. The demand for cotton from Europe was expected to decrease severely. The planters were especially wary of giving sharecroppers a fair shake in 1919.

Despite all the adversity, Hill was able to create nine lodges of his union across Arkansas.[3] It was at a meeting of the lodge at Hoop Sur that the trouble began. On September 30, 1919, the Union had a meeting with one hundred people on how to organize for collective bargaining. In attendance at the meeting were men, women, and children.

Hill expected to be harassed by the local plutocrats. He had six patrolmen stationed outside the Hoop Sur church.[1]The Missouri Pacific (MoPac) Railway had a private police force that worked in conjunction with the sheriff’s office.[4] An informant tipped a group of patrolmen that a union meeting was happening in Hoop Sur. An altercation ensued, and the parties exchanged gunfire. [1][4][6]The church was burned later that night to destroy evidence of return fire.[4] One MoPac agent died, and a sheriff’s deputy was wounded.

The blacks of Hoop Sur decided to prepare for retaliation. Many men took up arms to defend the residential area known as Helena. The sheriff organized a posse of five hundred to one thousand men [3] outside the courthouse. The attack from whites happened at mid-morning October 1st. The black resistance was able to hold off the onslaught, and only 15 to 20 blacks died on that morning.[4] The resistance accomplished an incredible task that day and will go down in history for their bravery.

The Governor decided to call in reinforcements. The Federal Government was afraid of a socialist uprising. The government allowed the Governor to bypass calling in the National Guard and gave him authority over 500 trained federal troops from Camp Pike. The intervention of federal troops caused the carnage.

The federal troops were responsible for most of the killing [4]. The soldiers carried machine guns, and white mobs from all over the South supplemented the force. Many unarmed blacks hid in the woods and were hunted down like dogs. Here are some of the quotes from whites that witnessed the massacre.

“[The white mobs and troops] shot and killed men, women, and children without regard to whether they were guilty or innocent of a connection with killing anybody or whether members of a union or not.”[1]

“Vigilantes killed a black woman pulled her dress over her head, and left her body on a road, another brutal lesson of what happened when [blacks] lost their place”[1]

“Several hundred (whites) … began to hunt negroes and shooting them as they came to them.”[3]

“Committed one murder after another with all the calm deliberation in the world, either too heartless to realize the enormity of their crimes, or too drunk on moonshine to give a continental darn.” [3][6]

“When finally the soldiers’ ammunition was exhausted, and their liquor ran low, they withdrew from the scenes of their sins against humanity, the remaining negroes gathered up their scattered dead and with slow, awkward step marched to their little churchyards and there said their simple rites over the bullet-riddled bodies of loved ones.”[6]

In the face of federal troops blacks still resisted. An eyewitness account from L.S. Dunaway reports a black dentist was arrested for his connection to the union. He and his three brothers were put in the back of two police cars. When the cars were transporting the men to jail, the envoy was ambushed. One of the police officers was shot with a shotgun. The other officers immediately killed the four suspects. [9]

The black resistance was not well documented. Much of the reason for such little information is the black men that were captured then freed were on extended furlough. They did not get a pardon. Furlough meant the governor could send them back to prison at any time. Also, after they saw the carnage inflicted on their families after their capture, they wanted to make sure the people that survived would not be attacked. No one wanted to be seen as bragging about shooting whites.

The fact that over 250 men were captured alive proves that the resistance was formidable. If the troops could simply annihilate the resistance, they would. There were too many instances of black towns being burned to the ground such as Rosewood, FL, and Tulsa, OK. The five hundred federal troops must have evaluated particular encampments and decided that forcing the rebels to surrender would reduce the loss of life. One corporal is reported to have died in the skirmishing. There is one quote by L.S. Dunaway that attest to the bravery of these men.

“There were those among [Blacks] that openly defied officers, citizens and soldiers alike, until death cut short their futile stand against the whites. ”

Unfortunately, after most of the resistance was captured or killed, blacks were killed indiscriminately in Elaine, AR. There are reports of black men being shot while running away from white mobs. Many eyewitness accounts report the killing of women and children. The troops often opened fire on unarmed civilians with machine guns. The exact number of blacks killed will never be known. Most of the bodies were burned in large pits to allow for quick disposal. [6] Many blacks fled Arkansas and created new lives in the North and West.

There is no record of Robert Hill participating in the fighting. However, there was a special search made for him.[6] He was able to escape to Boley, OK an all-black town in Oklahoma then moved to South Dakota to evade capture. [9]. He finally settled near Topeka, KS.

Topeka police captured Hill in 1920.[9] He had written a friend in Arkansas to let people know he was safe. The friend asked to meet him in Kansas City, MO. Hill agreed, and the friend tipped off the authorities.

The NAACP took the defense of Hill. After a prolonged legal battle, the NAACP prevented Hills extradition to Arkansas. Hill took an assumed name and worked for the Santa Fe Railway for forty years.[9] In gratitude to the NAACP, he served in the Topeka NAACP for many years.[9] He died in 1963.

Most of the black resistance was captured by October 3.[1] A few hundred people were put into makeshift jails to await trial. [3] The result of the original trial cause 12 men to be sentenced to death, 273 to pleas for second-degree murder, and a few had the case dismissed. Details on the trail and the landmark Moore vs. Dempsey case will be in next week’s Leader analysis.

Analysis:

No transcripts or recordings could be found of his speeches. However, L.S. Dunaway said, “Hill’s influence over the less intelligent Darkey was something marvelous.” According to Dunaway Hill said this:

“He had them believing that by standing together the negroes could make the white people divide with them in the matter of land ownership, and that if a peaceable division could not be obtained, then the negroes, outnumbering the whites about ten to one in that section, would “rise up and march on the whites with high-powered rifles and shotguns, thus showing the strength of the colored race.” p 107 [6]

For the sake of analysis, the statement’s truth will be assumed. The statement expresses an Orange level understanding of the situation of black people. Hill understands the underlying problem is economic, and once others realize that the real issue is money, poor whites and blacks are natural allies. The statement shows that Hill ultimately saw the struggle beyond racial lines.

Hill obviously was not against using physical force to protect members of his movement. He also made it clear to his followers that they had numbers in the town of Elaine and that they should not be intimidated by white people. The use of physical force is a precarious subject in black empowerment. The Elaine Massacre goes to illustrate this point. It is hard to speculate on what would happen if the black people of Hoop Sur did not have guards for the September 30 the meeting. Maybe the whites would have simply broken up the meeting, which there is little historical precedence. More than likely they would have hung Hill. It is also most probable they would have burned Helena to the ground if there had been no resistance on October 1st. The white mob of 500 to 1,000 people did not come to take six suspects peaceably. However, the result was the killing of 250 to 850 blacks in southeast Arkansas. Ultimately, white people have the firepower and numbers nationally. A large scale attack or defense will produce an outcome similar to the Elaine Massacre.

Sources

  1. Krugler, David (2-26-2015) America’s Forgotten Mass Lynching. from http://www.thedailybeast.com
  2. (5-25-2012) Causes of the 1919 Race Riots from https://socialistworker.org/
  3. Stockley, Grif (08-01-2016) Elaine Massacre from http://www.encyclopediaofarkansas.net
  4. Johnson, J (02-27-2013) Evanescence The Elaine Massacre from http://greenmountainsreview.com/
  5. Widell, Robert (08-2002) Blood In Their Eyes Review from http://www.h-net.org
  6. Dunaway, L.S. (1925) What a Preacher Saw Through a Keyhole in Arkansas
  7. (May 2016) Never Forget America’s Mass Lynching from https://blackmainstreet.net/
  8. (05-07-2011) Race Riots of 1919 from http://www.globalsecurity.org/
  9. Gruber, John (02-26-2015) Robert Lee Hill from http://www.encyclopediaofarkansas.net

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

Featured post

Powered by WordPress.com.

Up ↑