An approach to better race relations

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National YWCA Convention

Philadelphia, May 5, 1934


Madam Chairman and Ladies of the Convention:

The race problem in the United States is the type of unpleasant problem which

We would rather do without but which refuses to be buried. It has been a visible or

~, invisible factor in almost every important question of domestic policy since the

foundation of the Government, and may yet be the decisive factor in the success or

failure of the New Deal. The dominant interests in the South are determined that

there shall not be an industrial emancipation of the Negro. In Birmingham, Alabama,

on April 18, one brass-lunged industrialist raised the threat of secession if the

Government persisted in its efforts to eliminate the wage differentials between the

North and South. Of course, the South would never play into the Negro's hands by

seceding; but this idle threat shows the temper of the Southern industrial mind.

In the field of agriculture the government cotton acreage reduction program of

1933 brought a conflict in interest bet-~;con thc plantction o~aners and thoir prc­

dominantly Negro sharceroppers ond ten.nt f:rmr-rs. Thc Southern Commission on the

Study of Lynehing in its report "The Plight of Tu3eeloosa", found thc.t eut of 6,000

government eheeks sent inte Tusc2100sc County, jlabfms., as eompcnsation for tho eot­

ton 2cRCcgO reduetion, only 115 vzerc madc out to Negroes; and ovcn then informcd

loc21 pGOplC know of no inst&neo in ~7hieh n Negro got .any of tho monoy, thcir eheeks

being indorsed over to rhitc mcn in every known instenee. The signifieanec of this

eonditien i5 too plain for argumont when onc realizes that Nogrocs eonstitute more

[ thnn 70% of the dirt eotton farmers in Tusealoosa Countya end vihon one eonsidors that

L the Ncw Deal vras intonded to roaeh &11 thc szay down and benofit the man aetuclly on

the soil. It remc.ins to be seen thothcr the Bankhead ]=et rzill give the teroppers any

better protaetion in 1934.

In the natter of tho subsistenee homestead tho issue whieh earries thc most

dynnmite in mnny seetions of the eeuntry is the question whether whites and blneks

t . ..... .. . : . ..

- 2 ­shall bo includcd in tho samc homcstcad projcot, and upon r7hat tcrms. In the Chancellorsvillc, Gcorgia, Homcstoad Community, a proJcot involving from 30,000 to 100,000 ncres, a rogent of the Univcrsity of Goorgia on April 23 protested a propo­sition that Nogroes should bc set off in a separate community at one cnd of thc loca­tion, and o.rhites in a soparatc commnnity at the other. The gentleman came out flat­footcd in a letter ageinst segreg^.tion. He says:

" cro should not bc any scgrogation in thes^ homestead communitics. In other vIrordss there should not bc a whitc settlencnt,~.rhere only rhite pcople .70rk om livc, and there should not bc a Negro soction ~hers only Ncgrocs work and livo. Thorc should be no fixed plan at all. Thoro might be a group of farms wherc threc rJhite msn linred, and then ar. adjoining group with two or threo N6gro familics..." that a sogregated comnunity TTculd ovcrtually nean discrimir.tion against Negroes in mattcrs of equipmcllt, housing, taxation, schools olld tho liko; rrhereas intogratcd at random in thc comnsunity r.t large thc7r -ould sharc thc common benefits in more cqual moasure. Some Nogro lcaders havc bcor sending up hosannas ovor since this pronounec­ment; but there ..rc also scoptics rho arc saying that the undisclosed reason rhy thc gentleMon docs nct rlant the Ncgrocs scgregatcd i9 becauso he fears that they may

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lose tho master-slavc pattornundcr conditiors of economic independence alld physical separation; that as a Svutherner it is not so much that he rants to keep the Negro under his eyo as undor his thumb; and they point out another soction of his lettor rhere he says:

"This (segregation) is a condition ;~hich cxperience has tnught Southern peoplc r.on't work. It will bring on trouble, bad focling, ar.d eventually sozething worse."

The problems aro nof all in tho South. In your oxin organization thc greatest strain or. the Christianity of some of your Northern local associntions is thc ad­

mission and perticipation of Nogro momtcrship. Without extending my remarks, may I romind you that Christianity has always secmcd to fight a losirg battle ag inst racc p mJudico, 2S ovidoncod for oxhmplc by thc schiam of thc Protestant churchcs


on the issue of slavery prior to the Civil War; and the failure down to aate on the part ol most charches to extend the hand of Christian fellowship to the IJegro community, whether North, South, East, or West. The trx ble is that most of our cherches are social clubs masquer.~ding under the guise of religious institutions.

I shall not burden you with any detailed analysis of the condi­tion in which the NeKro finds himself ti ay. i\.Iany of you are famil­iar in the political field with the efforts of the Negro to penetrate the Democratic primaries, especially in the S ates of Virginia, Ala­bama and Texas. IB the field of economics you doubtless kno~.v that the initials N~S stand for "Negroes Robbed Again".

In the field of edu.cation you ma~r be acquainted with the efforts in North Carolina and Kentucky to have the State make some provision for Negro students who wish to take a professional cou.rse after grad­uating from the Negro colleges in tnose States, where the profession­al course is offered to rchite students in the tax-supported Universi­

• ties from which Negroes are excluded. Your own organ~ The Womants Press, has comnented on the discriminations against Negro students in Northern schools in the mattersof dormitory accommodations, gymna­sium and swimming pool facilities, practice nqork and clinical oppor­tunities in dentis try and medicine.- One OL the impending struggles which will be next to breok will be over the unequal and unjust apSortionment of school funds in the border and SoutVern states, in­cluding not only questions of buildin-~s and equipment but also the question of the differentials in white and NUgro teachers' salaries for the same certificate and the ssme gr.


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sehool in busos while the littlLe Negroes ti
Tho Seot tsbor o Ceses, the Angelo Hcrndon Case in Georgia, the i,zpotenec of the Ste.t.,s to eurb er punish lynehing; the attempted murder of two Ncgro lavyors near Handerson, North Carolin~a~ for dering to ehallcnge thc e:zelusion of Negrocis from a North CErolina jury, re­fleet the 102d earricid by thc r~rcgro in the eourts of "justieei"?

In the field of govcrnment you must kno~.v hovr thc Fedwral Civil SCrXJ1Cej rN S requiring candidates to state their raee and submit thcir photograph with their applieation have becn used to eliminate Negrocs as a elass from all appointments eovereid by eivil scrviee a bove the gradcs of 12borer or mosseng_r. An obstinate poliey of tho .tar nsd Navy Departments has deeim:.ted the r nks of Ittgro soldiers and sailors, and effoetively omaseulat :;d thoso st ill left in the serviee cC most o thoir solS-respeet; a matt_r ,-ihieh I prediet the United States sTill seriously icigrct in the ovent of c~.nother nvar. You must knonT something of the humiliation r.=d proerestination vzhieh Negro sAhite eollar work­ers met in many seetions last r:intcr .,hen they npplied for ~iork under the CWA. The nerJsnapers becn full of the I)cPriest rosolution aginst raeial diserimination in the Xouse Restaurant in Washington, and the ass.¢ult on a eultured Ncgro '.JOm>^.ll for the solc oSensc that shc was hungrzr and tried to ~;et serviee in thc Senate restaur.>llt during th he~rings on thc Costizani-.7agncr Anti-Lynching Bill.

Thc pliCht of thc Ncgro worker in cQgriculture, domestic seirvicc and industry; the disproportion2tW numbor of Ncgro familics on relief due to job displacencnts ~.d othor loss of .~ork, .~ith attende.nt loss of sclf-cssuranec, a.rcopen sorcs cnlling for socic.l surgery of the highcst

order, But there is no use piling up thc deficit,

On thc credit side we c3n point to ccrtain advances. T:mc Negro has mnde some progress under the Nc~z Dcal; and at lmst in the Federal Governmcnt therc is an increasing tendency to givc him a voice in his own intercst end to include his requirencnts in the n2tional recovery. Thc Attorncy GenerEl of OLlo has just ovcrthrovm tho designation of racc cvnd usc of photogr-aph in the Ohio St^te Civil Scrvice applis tions by declaring it an unconstitutional discrimin2tion. Thc Statc of D{=r~-­land in 1933 madc 2 bold attempt to bring thc lynchors of George Arrl­

wood to justicc, The Coik onrzoulth of Virginie is rcSorming its jury systcm, Southern ~7amen arc movlng repidly to tho front in intcrracial rrork. A>d your orrn Association has exhibited significant liberel ten­dencies,

But since thc problem beforc thc Ncgro today is not thc depths from vhich he has comc but thc heights to rlrhich he aspires, rze ppss on to thr! question ~:hat is his philosophy and l7hcat arc his techniques~

At the present time Negro lcadorship is in a statc of tr2nsition. The elder statesmcn on thc-Z7hole hovo madc their contribution and vrc on the wrcy out. The majority of the younger stcntesmen arc still vorry­ing over their ~ake-up: -7Lcther it shall be bright red or pnle pink. As a mattcr of fcot there is quite some doubt as to fnum -lxhat quartor the younger st2tesmcn vtill comc. Lwst summer a conference of young intcllcotuals and organization rJorkers, including some Asm your- own "Y", was eonvenod at Amenia to lay dosm a progrc^;m for thc raec, The eonferenee spent three days in t&lk c.nd then in substonee resolved it eould not resolve. l1Vithout any Sault on thc part of the host, it hns gone dov7n in hist ory as thc r.nomi e eonScrerD ec of Amcnia .

Thc NeWtional Association for tho Advonecraer,t of Colored People under thc couragoous .and nggrcCsivc les.dership of its secret.c.ry, ''[..lter White, reprcsonts thc most cffectivc fightillg forec in the ETcgro group, but tho N~.tionnI Association ;~cods ccrtain rcoricntotion &nd > mc~.surc of rcorgmizc.tion. Thc 1iost wffective ~.-JoS undor thc N.R.A. Cor the integrntion af Ne:gIo workors into lndustry <.nd the pIkotcotion cf their right s hc s becn donc, by tho Joint Conunitt ce 011 Nc.tional Recoverl,,r, the le^.ding spirit of -~,hich is John P, Davis .^nd to -;;hich your 0'7~ Asso­cin.tion hto.s given i ts support . Thc {Irban Sc-^..guc i s 1 ..rgcly sDpportunist T'lc Y.:..C.A. should bc knorm ni~s thc YourE Ien' s Conscrvative Associn~tic

To continuc the indictrrl.,nt, thc l\Tcgro Church h^.s rcmoved itsclf too f^.r f roln the ^.ctucl vic i5 5i tUd1S 01 li f C to 7ield tl16 i n lluenec rThich its .~cight aC nuinbers -.-.ould othcr-.-.isc give it. Thc avor~.gc Ncgr collct,.c offcrs regi~ment.^.tiol1 but v_ry 1~ tt' c rc<.l indepcndcnco of thought ;.nd uction. Thc old stylc Negro fr~.tornity still spmds ~,lost of itv onergies hclping tho sick .nd bur~>ring thc de^.d. In othor ~.rords tho Ncgro in 1934 h^.s outgro-.,n hi5 older pattcrns of lco.dershipS but if not yot surc of the ns.

Thorc airo other fo rcos ho7ever ut .-rork t ong thc Ncgro os . If hzad to n.^ c thc threc most signific.^mt cvcnta r,hich hcvc <.ffcoted Ncgro psychologn -,ithin thc last t.~crty years I would n^.nc thc 5.Jorld l~..ra tho rvoy movcvnt, £1Id Communism.

Tht3 Rorld t .r itsclf t. ught tNcgrocs orgrulizatlon, di sciplinn ana tho uLi.raport.anec of dcath . By the nigrotion of Southern labor to mr n Northrrn industric:s, tha Southcrn Ncgro got C tnstc of frcodan. For

thc first timc Ncgroc;s in C .rgc numbor got cnough ccononic goods to out t.ako tirlc/from thc strugglc for cxistcnco to rqtion,alizc Wbout t~heir

condition. Many of them tooR their first lessons in politics and

trade unionism. In short, the lrorld [ar leavened the lump.

The Garvey movement was a black man's dregm; and for all its bombastic phantasmagoria of a visionary African empire, it ltlade a per­

manent contribution in teaching the simple dignity of being black. Prior to Marcus Garvey all Negro teaching had been to be like the "good vrhite folks" and not m2ke too much noise. Madan Walker had made a million dollars making bleaches and straighteninb hair. But Marcus Garvey, the black Negro fram J-mcica, founded himself an imXginary empire, surrounded hvasclf with black dukes nd Eack duchesses, gatherec himself a black army and a green cross corps of b~ack nurses, actually sent black men out to sea in comnand of vessels, and pa­reded in the sun claiming his black skin 2S his proud birthright and distinction. For my purposes it is imnaterial whother he rias charIatan or Rool, Marcus Garvey by turning tlle Nbgrozs attention to the bcauty of the color of his own skin, has had a profound influence on Negro thought.

And now Communism --- goose flesh to some people. Thc contribu­tion of the Communists to the Negro has bcen to turn thc rece issue into n class issue. They h.~vc bcen the f=st, at lctst in recent times, to havc appoalcd to thc masses, as distinzuished from the classes. \~herc2s s11 prior approaches to thc messos had baen patcrn&listic, the Communists efimc and walkod among them, li~;c thc dis eiples of old, nnd offerfBd thom full and eozplete brotherhood, ~ithout resp*Det to raee, ereed or previous eondition of scrvitude. Finally, the Communists have been the first to fire the masses with a sen se of their ras, potential power, and the first opcnly to proaeh the doetrine of mass resistanee an1 mass struggle: Unitc and fight.

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It is not necess.-ry to orgnnizc a .tch c nd W.7-rd Society. Com­munism is too nol, ..nd Negrocs crc still too conserv?tive to rush into aliy r^.dicol, revolution.ry progr m. But the ff ct romains the.t the fight stich Lieborrits c.nd thc Co~munists h^.w m.^.dc and c.rc meking in tIlc Scottsboro C. scs hos caught thc imagin..tion of Negroes a.s nothing clso .-~ithin ?. dec^dc. And a.s onc3 of its repcrcussions it h.s forecd ­a11 thc rcst of us rzolild-bc Ncgro le^.ders, or, .s the Comaunists rould h .vc it: Ncgro m 1 c^ders, to . firner st^nd crLd boldcr .^~ct ion thbn ~ c prob?bly ~.70uld becn inclined to t^)cc other:zisc. Thc Cowlunists­hSovC rlc.dc it impossible for ,^ny; spiront to Ncgro lecdership to dvo­ less thcin full economic, politiccl soci..l equclity, ond cxpect to thc rcspect s confidenec of thc group. Son<.~ duy thc Scotts boro C;scs crc Going to bc . clSnorJlcdgod &S a ilcstonc in thc history of A;acricav

~n1cn it comcs to the m;atter of tcchniqucs, sevcr21 fIice e~ro is the only sub­orditr-tc, rainority &roup thLt I kno--t of .IhDSe lOgrl rights outrcach actu:l pr^ctico. Thc usu..l coursc of history is for a subaIrdir~.gimn thc Ncgro in thobry and in 1n.~ bsolute cquclity of citizenship, so that thc rcal problcm of the Ncgro is not to obtain nerz rights but to obt rin the cttectivc cnforocnent of thosc ho rlrcedy has. Thi s f ct has thro.n thc majority os thc racc controvcrsies into the courts; and porhaps the foct that tho rocc issuc has produccd so littlc bloodshcd in thc United Stntcs _s contr^.stcd ~ith other racial issucs of cor,5pnr­ablc sizc is duc in no mall dogrcc to the fact thvt thc majority of

our rocin ars havc becn f aught in the court ronz r^ther than in the

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n;.rRot ploeo. ~ This is whnt is e.

The ;;rtter of tcehniqucs has beon further eompli ented by the faet thr.t raeial eonditions arc not tho s~ue in all soetions of the eountTy. The Negro in Nerz York does not exaetly the stmc problems as the Negro in Tcxas. The Negro in Gcorgi. eannot makc the sa me speoehe s or se the s.

Techniqucs then h^.ve v-.ried aeoerding to time, plaec ad eireun­stanees. The N.tional Assoei..ticn for the Adv..neeiXcnt ef Colored Poopl threw the foree of its n^.tion.vido distribution cf bra.rehes intb thc fight to defeat Judge P-rkor In lJ.shington, D. C., thc New Negro Alliunee eomposod of young eolloge gr.duates has been pieketing dlain storcs in Ncgro neighborhoods to foree thc cnploynont of Negro elorlfs. In Colunbio., South CCnrolinc, the Negroes ^.re or~;^nizing a Non-Partisen Voters League for greater infTIuenee in the primaric-s A violent een­trovcrsy is no-; ragi1y3 botgeen one of our ox-2postlos and a lot of otner people ovor tho question how fer voluntary segreg^~tion is an effoetivo vzetapcn in the struggle fcr Negro rights. And fin.lly, te Iay mint, tho rrhite and ccal niners in the Birningho-n District havc pre sented tho ultinatc soluti on by forning tcgethor in one comElon union to fight shouldor tc shouldor f ar their ccmon intcrcstso

lEElat has s11 that I Mavo said to do nith thc Y.l.v.G.h. crId a bettcr approcch to racc rclntions? I csk you tc c.pproach thc question both

f-ora nn organizational st.^~ndpoint cnd from qn individual stzdpcint as outstanding ond rcsp ected citizens of your sovcral ccrmunities. I you tc take thc qucstion cut of tho rcalr1 of cbstroctions o.nd to rc­

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st.atc it in tbra;~s cS hum^.n rcl-.ticn.ilips. Then v.?h^.tevcr ysu do cither z.s an org^aiz~^tion cr as ;-.ill dcpcnd upcn thc cnd rcsult ysu zrc attc:-lp ting tc achievc.

i.Tc uro not attcr.lpting tc push you tc tl,c point of destructicn. But 67c do onph..sizc that l_z.dership in title cf strc:ss inovitably in­volvcs (. ccrt~accept the responsibilities and risk tllat incorruptible, couregeous leadership brin g s.

I te are not asking you to taRLe qp the cro ss out cf any sent imenta:L inwerest in the Negro. ]3ut we do ask you to move farrzerd to free white America from its senseless phobias and its contenXptuous rXrrogance toward &11 peoples of non-Nordic stock. In this we c.~ppreciCte the magnitude l of your task. VTc understJnd th.- t tller :3 arc so;ac things you can do vTith your gen re.tion, c.nd probably somc you cannot do. But you can m~^ke your generc$ion opcn its eyes ..nd reslizc when it is cutting off its nosc to spito its facc, .~s thc South is doing s7hen it squcezes thc Ncgro's wa.ges und in consequence cuts do~m his consuming porrer in thc comnunity. -.ic do cxpoct you to throur all youLr encrgios . twenty­four hours z. d¢~y in a fight for clomGnt<.l justicc without rogard to rnec, clo ss or cr~;cd.

I s.~y nothing vbout thc cxtrov^.gancX, the duplico.tions, thc 57astc of > bi-r^.ci^-l systzm. If you rcolly 7-nt s. bi-r^.cic.l system, c.nd oreD

rzilling to p.¢.y thc pricc to h.^.vc (o.n honcEt, cquit..blo onc, so f-r c.s I .ns conecrncd you ..rc sclcomc to it. But I suggcst tht.t if you do pcr­petus .tc a bi-rc.ciol systzms if you t-SC i ntcr cstwd in thc so-csllcd purity of your r>.ciul stock, if you o.rc t.nxious to kccp mul..ttocs ..nd octoroons from p.^.ssing for 57hitc c.nd living . nd i-larryi}nE a.mong you as

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