Extracts from Charles Denby's excellent autobiographical work, Indignant Heart - Testimony of a Black Worker. The extracts describe his experiences as a black auto worker, factory struggles against both the bosses and the union bureaucracy and the dynamics of race within the workforce and wider society. He also describes his disillusioning experiences with Stalinist and Trotskyist parties and their hypocritical attitudes to black workers.
Originally published in the US at the height of the McCarthyite era in 1952 under the assumed name of Matthew Ward. The author later became better known as a member of the Marxist humanist group News & Letters under the name Charles Denby and edited their paper. He died in 1983.
(UAW is the United Auto Workers union.)
TODAY WAS THE fifth time this year that the Council meeting, had to be called off because they didn't get a quorum of fifty-five people. This is the General Council of our local union, UAW, a union of seventeen thousand members with nine hundred members in the Council. I've been on the Council four consecutive years. We have adjourned more meetings this year than in all the previous years put together. Two months ago the union leaders blamed the poor attendance on the bus strike. Fifty percent of the members have cars and this is the second meeting to be adjourned since the end of the bus strike. Every chief steward is a member of the Council. The steward on my line hasn't attended a meeting in two years.
There was a big change in the union from 1943, when I first went in, to the present day. We used to hold our meetings in the auditorium of Cass Tech, a big high school. We had to hurry to get there. There were as many workers standing outside trying to get in as were inside at the meeting. There was a free and democratic setup. Any member could bring a grievance to the membership as a whole. Now, if any worker, white or Negro, tries to bring up a grievance at a membership meeting, the union officers tell him, "There are four of us at the union hall all the time. Come down and discuss it with us."
If we go down to see the union officers, as they tell us to, they either put us off or give us the business.
In the early days there was rarely a meeting that didn't mention something about our Negro brothers and sisters. There was a discussion around this at every meeting. Many Negro women were working in the plants then. Many of today's union leaders would discuss shop problems and issues that face our Negro brothers with the membership as a whole taking part. We used to go to listen to the other guys. We would always come away with something from these meetings. Now, there is no such thing as our union leader bringing a problem facing our Negro brothers and sisters before the members as a whole to be discussed.
I'm not saying this change was made the same day or the same year Reuther got control of the UAW. The powerful machine was not organized the same day or year. But since Reuther came in, if there is an issue raised by Negroes, as Negroes, we are told by the union leaders that this is the most damaging thing we can do to ourselves. They say don't raise the question of Negroes. The first two years a Negro woman, Alice Phillips, was on the Reuther staff her picture appeared in the Negro press every month at least, but it has not appeared this year.
During the UAW convention held in Cleveland, Ohio, a Negro delegate told me that many Negroes were assigned to leading white hotels. In some cases, a white worker put in for the room. But when his roommate, a Negro worker, would come in, the hotel clerks would stop him. They would ask the Negroes to leave. The UAW had a housing committee and they would send a Negro international representative to talk to the Negroes about a place to stay. The international rep would take them to his room.
He would say, "We're going to straighten this thing out. Have a drink?"
He would keep pushing the whiskey at them until they were drunk. When they were drunk, the rep would say that they had found rooms for them in a Negro hotel.
He'd say, "You see, we're good to you. We always do our best. If you will just stay at this place tonight, then tomorrow we'll really fight this thing out."
The next day the Negroes would ask for a meeting with the housing committee. The committee would be tied up all day. The day after they would be told the same thing. The committee was always busy. This would go on until the end of the convention when it didn't matter any longer. Every time a Negro brought up an issue along the lines of discrimination he would be sent to the Negro international rep. The rep would calm him with whiskey. All the reps had eight to ten quarts of liquor in their room at every convention. They also had women for the men. All of this is at the expense of the dues paid by the workers. Some delegates did not go to more than one session during the whole convention. In Dodge, during a strike, union functionaries gave the Negro workers the run around about where to go for picket duties. At lunch time they sent Negroes upstairs to eat and left the downstairs for the white unionists.
A white worker asked a union official: "What if the Negroes make trouble at having to eat upstairs?"
The official pulled a black jack out of his pocket and said, "If they give any trouble I got something to handle them with."
A friend of mine worked in the kitchen. She told me that when Negroes came to be served she was told, "Watch those pork chops with the niggers when they come in. Just give them one chop. Let them come back if they want any more. You can give two chops to the white guys."
George Addes, ex-secretary-treasurer of the UAW opened .1 beer garden over on Gratiot. The Negro unionists say that Negroes can't go in to be served.
I was told by one of the ex-officers of our local that at the local's anniversary party the union hired Negroes to serve. They had the most Uncle Tom kind of Negro they could get. It was just like the South. The whites danced and talked to themselves. There was no mixed dancing.
Three years ago the lunch wagon owned by an outside chain company, brought food into the plants to sell to the workers at lunch time. They raised the price of their food after a few weeks. The workers felt this was too much to pay and put up a holler so the union decided to boycott all the lunch wagons. The stewards were to see to it that no one bought anything. The first day no one came near the wagon. The second day five Negroes went to the wagon and began getting food.
The white chief steward yelled and said, "Put down that damn stuff."
The Negroes looked around, very angry, and continued to pick up food.
The steward rushed to me and said, "What I say about your people is true, they won't cooperate. Go over and see if you can stop them."
I went over and before I could speak one said, "Matthew, we want to cooperate but yesterday we went outside and the restaurant where we can eat was packed. There was a long line waiting and half of us didn't get anything to eat. We were so hungry in the afternoon we had to check out early. We just couldn't make the day without eating. All the whites ate because they can go in any restaurant. We can't bring lunch because we don't have wives to fix them."
All the restaurants around the plant are jim crowed, there are only three places where Negroes can eat, and there are about three thousand Negroes working on my shift. I went to the white chief steward and told him the story.
I said, "If you can get some white workers tomorrow, I will get some Negro workers and we can go out and break these restaurants discriminating around the plant. We will see that the restaurants serve all of our union members. I will stand guard every day after that and guarantee that no one will buy off of this wagon."
This stunned him. He said he couldn't do it. He would have to take it up with our union officers and that would take some time. The Negro fellows continued to eat from the wagon and pretty soon all the workers came back to eat there too. The lunch wagon kept selling at a high price which hurt both Negro and white workers.
The Negro weekly newspapers in Detroit, carried an article on the 1949 UAW convention held in Milwaukee, Wisconsin. The articles said that a Negro delegate from St. Louis, Missouri, got the floor and called Reuther's attention to the discrimination that was being carried out in his plant, Local 25. He pointed out an agreement between the union and the company that Negroes would receive less wages for doing the same work as whites. Reuther replied that this agreement was negotiated by the former left wing leadership.
The Negro delegate said, "But after four years of right wing leadership this still exists and you did not answer my question."
A week or two after the article appeared, a friend of mine was visiting here from St. Louis. He works in the same plant as the man who spoke to Reuther. He told me that it is a General Motors plant. Reuther has been the top negotiator for General Motors for years. He also felt very sure that this was the home local of Livingstone, one of the UAW vice presidents. He told me the company would hire a Negro as quickly as a white; there were no complaints about discrimination in hiring. When the company wanted to speed-up, they put pressure on the whites first and said, "If you don't want to do it, we can get Negroes to do it for fifteen cents less an hour."
He felt sure this kept hostility between Negroes and whites. This hurt the white workers as much as the Negroes.
Sure, Reuther is always mentioning the Negroes in his big speeches. 1 heard him speak at an NAACP meeting this year, attacking America about the way Negroes are treated here.
He said, "In America we can talk about our atomic bomb that can split this earth asunder - we can talk about the Iron Curtain here of Stalin, but we will never be the America we could be until we drop the iron curtain here, and let fifteen million Negroes have their full freedom as any other American citizen." After Reuther finished his talk, a Negro international rep asked me what I thought of the talk.
"Good," I said, "He always gives a good talk, but he has not as yet raised the Curtain on the International Executive Board high enough to appoint one Negro on it."
Reuther's line in the union is that there is no Negro problem. The bureaucrats say if you bring it up on the floor as a Negro problem it will hurt you. The Polish and Jewish and Italian don't do it, so why should Negroes?
When I was first elected to the Council it had been set up to discuss the problems of the workers in production. But it has turned into a machine of the union leaders. Whatever comes up on the floor, if the leaders want it passed—that's it. Any time one of the rank and file workers gets up and says anything particular about our work in the shop or asks about a specific incident in his department, he gets squashed down. Workers say there is no use going to meetings. They say what they want to bring up won't hit the floor. If a question does get on the floor, the Reuther bureaucracy calls the previous question. That means stop the debate and vote on the discussion. One worker may speak sharp and ten or fifteen hands go up. The labor bureaucrat knows his stooges and he recognizes one of them. Sometimes workers jump all over the hall trying to talk. The president gets up and gives his line, the chairman says, "We have to proceed along democratic lines. We are not going to let you have special privileges. Now we will vote on it," and the issue is killed.
When the bureaucrats want to put over an issue they have a way of taking their cars to pick up supporters. They haul out everyone they know, even some who haven't been in the plant or the union for three years. It is always on a political issue, city officials or something to do with the state elections. Two years ago the workers came out in a group to try to force discussion. They were so whipped and crushed down that now they say, "The hell with the union."
I point out the difference between the union and the union leadership to the men on my line. I say what the union means to me and to us. When I first joined the union in 1943, the words brother and sister - I didn't grasp their full meaning. But after getting active in the union and understanding what the workers did and went through in organizing the UAW-CIO, I could see that this was the first real emancipation for the white worker and the second emancipation for the Negroes. Then brother and sister meant something to me. Since then I felt that our relations as union members should exist as close as possible, next to the immediate family relations.
When we talk on the line, after a meeting, the men say, "Yes, what you say about the union, that's all true. But this is the union, the way it is today, and not what we want, so what the hell. The hell with the union."
But a question can come out about the company, or somebody trying to break the union and you'll have all the workers out the next day. If it is the usual meeting the workers won't attend.
When Ford Local 600, UAW-CIO, held its tenth anniversary celebration last year and announced John L. Lewis as their principal speaker, I felt that I could not miss it. I had always wanted to see and hear John L. Lewis, ever since I saw those pictures of the sit-down strikes while I was living in the South. At the celebration there were some eighty thousand workers from all over the city packed into an open field joining the union hall. I saw several busses loaded with workers from the coal fields. When Lewis appeared, the applause was so great, it felt to me the earth was trembling. When he started to speak, I felt I had known him personally for years. No one who had ever seen his pictures in the paper could mistake him. He was identically the same, not resembling anyone. He had strange features, it seemed to me his look was strange. He had a very deep heavy voice which roared through the audience. The more I tried to gather up in my mind some features of someone I had seen before, the stranger he seemed. Then I remembered one time I had seen a cartoon in the paper; it showed Winston Churchill with the features of a bulldog. I said to myself, "Yes, John L. Lewis has the features of a lion." His voice is like that of a lion, his face and his head, all of his looks seemed to go with his fight in helping to build the CIO.
Lewis said, "I am here with you to celebrate the tenth anniversary of you local union. I have heard there is a saying among many of you that I am also here to celebrate as the founder and organizer of the UAW-CIO. I do not agree with those who say that I am the founder and organizer. The UAW-CIO was founded and organized by many of you who are here today, and many like you who are not here. But if you want to bestow some honor upon men, I will accept that I did as much to help organize the UAW-CIO as anyone else.
"Don't pay attention to those labor leaders and intellectuals running around the place with a new briefcase and one piece of paper in it, getting up telling you what to do. Many of them don't know as much what to do as you do yourselves. They should be in the plant with you."
Somewhere in his talk he asked, "Who is responsible for the UAW-CIO?"
Someone in the audience yelled out, "You."
He said, "No, it was you, all organizing yourselves together, understanding the situation that was involved, that brought General Motors to sit down and bargain collectively."
He said, "This huge gathering here today is power, it is force, the working force of production that America and the world exist upon. It is the force and power that can bring any corporation to recognize you when you are organized together."
This is what I was thinking. This working force that everything hinges on; this was the answer. Lewis stated it. How much he meant it, I don't know. I was glad to be a part of this force that Lewis was speaking of and I knew there was no other place for me to go. Before Lewis finished speaking, I made my way through the crowd into the hall. I felt I wanted to touch him. He came down the aisle, pausing every step, shaking workers' hands. I reached out mine. He shook it, smiled and said, "Good luck." He walked outside and got in a large convertible and shook hands with workers for five or ten minutes. Motorcycle cops all around the car opened their sirens and the car pulled off.
The way that Lewis spoke; that's not how the bureaucrats act. I had a worker tell me today, swearing, that the union represents nothing but the company.
"Nobody can tell me these guys aren't paid by the company. The only guys who have fun in the shop are those who shoot crap all day or the guys who write the numbers."
Numbers are collected openly in my shop. A guy works numbers on my line. On Thursday he goes to the bank and draws out two thousand dollars. When the workers come on Friday to pay for the numbers they played during the week, he cashes their checks. There are always ten or fifteen workers standing around. The big shots walk up and down. They never say anything. Some workers think the numbers men pay off the union and the union makes it right with the company. Once in awhile the company will fire a small guy, but it's just like the racket outside, they never fire a leading numbers man. Numbers playing goes on all over the shop in every department and in every plant in the city. In a predominantly Negro department there is one fellow, who, the Negroes think, must be doing it for the company. He has a job but he doesn't do any work. The numbers man on my line brings a pistol to work on Friday. Many of us wonder why he doesn't get fired. He hangs his coat up with the gun showing but the company never says a word to him. if a worker hasn't any money left after paying, he stays and borrows from the same guy, paying him twenty-five cents on the dollar interest. He walks around all week and lends workers money. This is no different than what I saw in the South.
A Negro drove up to the union hall today with one of the biggest Chryslers made. He was so dressed up that we thought he was one of the international representatives. We were standing around talking and we all said, "Porkchopper."
He came out with the vice president of the local and they stood talking at the car. The vice president kept his hand on the Negro's shoulder and he was smiling all over his face. One of the men with us was so worried, not knowing this man, that he went to ask. After the guy drove off, the vice president said that he was a line steward in the plant.
He told us this and everyone said, "Oh, he's a numbers guy or else a loan guy."
Nobody would have taken him for a worker. He was dressed up and wearing a diamond ring and the car was a special Chrysler. The vice president was never so warm to any Negro before.
It makes me sick. There is a guy on my line taking numbers. I asked him one day how he had the heart to take the workers' money. I know one man whose wife came and begged the manager to make her husband stop playing. They had five children and he never brought home any money. When I asked the numbers fellow he said he was making money, had just bought a new car and was building a house soon. He didn't give a damn for workers or their problems. One Negro I know worked with me during the war. He started writing numbers and in four years he made twenty-eight thousand dollars cash.
Many workers won't come in to work on Friday. They get their check in the front office and when they see the numbers guy on Monday they say they are broke. Some wildcats are pulled on a Friday. These numbers men practically go insane if a strike is pulled before lunch on Friday. Sometimes a man will ask the foreman if he can go home at noon to avoid the numbers man. The foreman says, no, but the guy will leave anyway. The man will sometimes get fired for going home when the foreman said no.
Two years ago, with the model changeover, they tried to speed up production on the job. The bargaining committee said we wouldn't have to run one piece more than before. They said it was the same job. We had been running one hundred jobs an hour. The time study man turned in a report that we should do one hundred thirty-five jobs an hour and the company tried to beat us into speeding up. With stationary jobs, there is an agreement that a worker gets six minutes out of the hour, if he does not make production. If he makes production ahead of the hour, then he gets whatever time is left for himself. The workers were so mad about the speed up, that they gave up their fifteen minutes and took the six that were due them every hour. They said they'd be damned if they'd make one thirty-five an hour. The bargaining committee told us that as long as we worked fifty-four minutes we didn't have to make production. They were thinking that in a week or so the workers would give in so they would get fifteen minutes rest like the other workers.
After two weeks they still couldn't make the men do one hundred thirty-five jobs. They were still doing one hundred. The company called the bargaining committee into the office and the committee agreed that the workers should do one hundred twenty-five. The company always sets the figure higher than they expect so they can eventually get what they want. The union tried to get the workers to agree to one twenty-five. They wouldn't do it for three days. The bargaining committee said they had to do it, that the time-study watch showed one thirty-five and that "figures don't lie." They told us if we didn't do it we'd be in the street.
The workers hollered and yelled and said, "What kind of an agreement is this? We were told on the job changeover that we would do as we had before, and now you tell us that figures don't lie.
The committee said, "You have to do it."
The workers had to give in. In this speed up the union worked hand in glove with the company.
When Reuther came out against wildcat strikes it just meant the company would clamp down. All of us knew it. The union leaders said the wildcat was caused by the Commies, and at the same time, they said the workers were lazy and didn't want to work. One worker, Samuels, an old guy who had been in the shop for twenty-five years was looking out the window one morning. He saw some workers going out and cursed them; he said they didn't want to work. I told him he was talking like the company and the union. I tried to tell him what strikes meant. This was something I knew he didn't accept. His line was that we voted for these union leaders and we should follow them. Older workers are usually more conservative.
In the speed up from one hundred to one twenty-five the company put a special foreman over this old guy. They figured if they broke him the others would follow. The company was putting pressure on him and the workers were putting pressure on department. A bargaining committeeman will never tell the truth quit working eight minutes before the hour instead of six. The foreman rushed into the office and gave him a warning slip. Samuels got so mad he started talking about what we should do to the company.
He said, "We need a strike."
I carried a group over to him and told him, "You remember" what I said the other day? You remember what you said about wildcats?"
He said he had been wrong. "You told me it was always the fault of the company. God damn it, it's true. I thought the days were wiped out when they could put a man to stand over you."
The bargaining committee said the company could have a foreman anywhere they wanted as long as he didn't drive a worker. The old guy didn't have proof that the foreman was driving him. But he was driving.
We have benches to sit on to eat lunch. The foreman finally got so mad because we wouldn't do one hundred twenty-five jobs, that he broke up one of the benches. We got the chief steward in a position where he said if the bargaining committee didn't support him he'd pull off his button and go back to work on the line; it was too much to let the company get away with. He asked me if I would accept the job of chief steward. Before this time he had been afraid I might get his job because of the workers who liked me. I told him I didn't want the job and that it would be a mistake for him to take off his button. It was a fight the company was pulling off and he should see that all the workers supported him and not call the bargaining committee at all. I promised to help him and he felt pretty good. He got us a new bench. He would have been pretty well wrecked if he had stood for breaking up our bench. It would have been open to the workers that he hadn't supported them.
One morning I heard that the workers in another department were being sent home because of a shortage of material. I went to Samuels, the old guy, and told him that we all got so mad at what the company did to him, that we were wildcatting in the afternoon. He was so happy, he said he would be the first to walk out. To this day he thinks the workers left because of him. Now he's the first one to get the workers to walk out and always defends them. He's the most militant worker we have in the shop today.
If one worker gets in a sharp argument with a foreman, every worker who can get away from his job will come to find out what's up. Fifty will be around in no time at all. The crowd will be so thick you won't be able to see the two who were arguing. The union and the company try to keep a disagreement within its own department. A bargaining committeeman will never tell the truth about a dispute. He'll give the workers some story. None of us will ever believe him. They keep a grievance quiet because they know workers will support workers.
The company fired twenty-five men on the night shift and the union was stalling about getting them back. We didn't know for two days, that the night shift had gone out twice. On a Saturday the union held a department meeting of the night and day shifts. The workers got so mad they cursed the local officer. They told him if nothing was done by Monday morning they would put up a picket line of their own on Tuesday to keep the day shift out. This shook the union leaders because they knew it would spread around. Every worker would know the men were having trouble. The union had the bargaining committeemen go into every department of the plant and tell the chief stewards to instruct the workers that they were to ignore the picket line. The chief steward came to me first and told me to tell the thirty guys on my line. The bargaining committeeman stood off to the side, listening. I asked the steward to repeat what he had said.
Then I told him: "Do you know who you are talking to? I won't tell a worker on my line a damn thing. You know who I am. These workers know who I am. I stand on principles. I'm surprised at you telling me to go through a picket line. What's going on in this union? We used to fight and kill scabs. Now you're telling me to tell these workers to scab. You're trying to make me a scab. That's something I'll never be."
The committeeman stepped up and said the strike was not authorized by the union.
I told him, "That's why we are having a strike. The company knows that the union will try to whip us down on anything they want to put over on us. They make us walk out. I'm positive, and I'm sure every worker will say, that the company had forced these workers to call the strike. I'm sure the company knows we're not supposed to strike until we get an okay from the union. They'll drive the workers to do anything they want them to do. If the workers don't strike, then by the time the union gives its okay the men will be forced to do what the company wanted. If a worker does the work for one day then the company will put out that they should do it all the time because they are able to do it."
I pointed out the strike of the plant guards. The union made us support the guards, and they're nothing but cops for the company. They're not even members of our union. The union gave us the line that some day the guards might want to join our union. None of us wants these cops in our union. I told him that the union tried to poison us saying that the workers don't want to work. I said if a worker didn't want to work he wouldn't have to come to the plant in the first place. But the company knows we're not supposed to strike, and it knows the position of the union. They know that's the way to defeat the workers with the only weapon they have, the strike.
"You can tell the committee man that I work every day but if a picket line of my brothers is up, then I won't be in the shop."
The chief steward said he hadn't thought about it like that. He said, "It's the truth. I won't tell any of the workers in my department what to do. If they come in on their own, if they don't come in, that's up to them. If there's a line I won't be in to work either."
The union got the same resentment throughout the shop. At three o'clock every committeman and chief steward was in front of the gate handing out leaflets. The leaflets told the workers not to support the strike. It was a very well printed leaflet.
A worker said, "I'm sure the company is working hand in hand with the union. It's impossible that the union could run out seventeen thousand leaflets between two-thirty and three o'clock."
One worker said, "We should have shotguns and shoot every committeeman first. Those bastards are trying to push us through the line."
The workers feel they'll never be able to beat the union bureaucracy in an election.
"They'll stuff the ballot boxes, and if they get beat there'd be blood around the ballot box."
The next morning there was no picket line. The union got eighteen men back that afternoon and promised to have the rest back the next day. But the union had a sound truck out, in case the picket line was up. They weren't sure, and there was a line they'd yell for the workers to go through.
A worker friend walking in with me said, "A stool pigeon and a scab used to hide and cover his face. Now, the union is the biggest stool pigeon and scab and is trying to get the workers to be scabs."
At another plant the union had the flying squadron ready to take the scabs through the picket line.
One white worker said, that if a member of the flying squadron hit him he'd walk with a shot gun the rest of his life to kill those sons of bitches. He said that the flying squadron was paid from our money, and set up to help us fight the police. But now they talk about beating us back into the plant for the company.
All this is why they can't get the workers to a Council meeting. Last month we finally got a quorum for a General Council meeting. I reached the hall while the president was reporting on the wildcat strikes. Twenty-three workers had been fired. The union promised the strikers that they would get the men their jobs if they wouldn't wildcat. They got all back to work except nine. So the workers went out again. On the second night, the workers sat down in the plant for two hours.
The president of the local was speaking more viciously than I had even seen him. He was talking about stopping the wildcats. He said the men would be brought up on charges and expelled. They had been listening to cheap left wing politicians. They were cheap and yellow and without guts enough to come out in the open and speak against the local officers. They would be behind the union's back and get the workers to wildcat. They always managed to evade getting fired themselves. He also said that the workers in one plant were the biggest liars he'd ever heard. They'd said the union hadn't done anything about the fired men, but only seventeen of them came to the meeting to discuss with the union.
The floor was opened for discussion. A Negro was the first to speak. He said he was opposed to accepting the president's report. The general attitude of the president was vicious, low type politics. He said the president said left wing politicians caused the wildcat, but he wasn't left wing. He didn't care a damn about politics in the union. This was what the union always used when the workers faced them with any problem, this was used to evade the issue. When the president called the workers liars he had plenty to say in answer. At the last election the president of the local spent one hundred dollars or more of union money for stickers and advertisements saying that he opposed the dues increase. The Ford workers were fighting the dues increase too at the convention. He had suggested that our local unite with the Ford workers. He spoke to the recording secretary of the union about it and the secretary said they weren't opposed to the dues increase. "We are for it."
The fellow asked the president, "If that phony work with stickers and advertisements isn't being a liar, then what is?"
He went head on in a fight with the president. He did one of the best jobs I've witnessed.
A Trotskyist spoke. He said he had been away organizing. He said he was disturbed. This was the third Council meeting this year and workers didn't turn out. Why, when the present administration controlled seventy-five percent of the members of the Council didn't they attend meetings? He was disturbed about executive board meetings too. They couldn't get a quorum of seventeen members out of a board of one hundred. This was a board with ninety-five percent control by Reuther. He said the meetings should be advertised well and the workers should be told there would be free discussion in meetings. He was disappointed with this in the union.
An old timer spoke next. He said he didn't know what was wrong with the union. The members should get an intellectual with clear understanding to help us in our union. That's what we needed.
A bargaining committeeman spoke next. He said, "I do everything I can for the workers. I can't seem to satisfy them. I wish someone would tell me what is wrong with the workers. We get three raises and insurance benefits for the workers. But when they were on strike they cursed the committeemen. During the wildcat strike, a worker pulled a knife, put it against me and said if I ever came back in the department he'd kill me. I surely wish someone could tell me what is wrong with the workers."
I got the floor. This is what I said:
"I noticed quite a few ovations when they said the workers didn't attend meetings and that the workers were not following the officers of the local and that they should and that that was what the trouble is. We're missing the boat and missing it far. I don't see it as you say, that you got the insurance benefit for the workers. The workers got it by putting on the pressure. When the present administration came in the first proposition Reuther made was that we could live peacefully with management. From that alone, management understood as well as anyone else that if we were not going to strike, but would live peacefully, then they could speed up the line and beat the workers at the point of production to make more profits than they did before they gave us ten cents and the benefits. The proof is that every year the president of the International gets up and tells that the corporation is doubling its profits and that we need to get more of what we produce. How can this be when the company has the right to control production by speed up?
"I don't agree with the old time union leaders of the local trying to say that a worker must be born in one department of the plant before he understands anything about the union, that we need an intellectual. That's saying we're dumb. The bargaining man thinks because he's a bargaining committeeman he's teaching the workers and getting a few things for them. This is it and they should go with him. Workers don't have to be in the union twenty-five years before they know what's what. The average worker comes into the plant, and according to the contract, the foreman is supposed to spend three days showing him his operation. The average worker has the foreman with him for only three hours. It's not that long before he can do his operation. In three days he is able to do the operation as well as anyone who has been in the plant twenty-five or thirty years. Many workers who have been in for thirty years, if sent over to the new worker could be shown by him. And as easy as a worker can learn an operation he can learn and knows unionism just that well in less than three months.
"One thing I notice that we are doing now in all these issues, the workers are faced with the idea that it is cheap left wing politicians making them do everything. That says the worker is dumb. The company is oppressing him and he isn't supposed to have sense enough to fight back. The union hasn't mentioned one time the role the company plays in relation to a worker at the point of production. But Harry Bennett has to write a book We Never Called Him Henry to let these union leaders know that this is the role the company plays. He only mentioned Ford, but all workers know that this is the role that all leading industries play.
"The brother that mentioned an intellectual. You should understand this - that the worker knows and understands better than the teacher, the President, or the intellectual, the role he has to play in relation to the company. He knows better than any plan that could be thought out for him. I think if we take the side of the worker and if the union leader becomes a part of the struggle he's carrying on, then we'll see and not be so confused. I heard a hundred workers if I heard one, make the statement that our president was at one time a good union man. He led many wildcat strikes. But, they ask, what has happened to him, today? I tell them, 'That's the sixty-four dollar question. But you won't get sixty-four dollars if you find the answer. You'll probably get thrown out of the union.' "
The discussion was closed and the president came back with his rebuttal. He said very little about the other speakers. He started in on me.
He said, "That's what I meant. These politicians know how to operate. They don't go far enough, they don't cross the line so that they can be brought up on charges. That brother just did one of the damndest chop jobs on us that was ever done in the union but he didn't go far enough to where he'd have to prove what he says and could be tried."
This tickled me. The president thought every worker around him is so dumb that he had to tell them what I said.
The president went on. "Many workers, he said, tell him we were good fellows six or seven years ago. What's happened to us now? The brother tells the workers that if they find the answer to the sixty-four dollar question they'll get thrown out of the union. He's accusing us openly, and frankly, before this Council meeting of being company stooges. But he won't go across the line. He just comes up to it and stops and leaves it hanging. I want everybody to know what he is saying. He knows if he says that we are stooges he'll have to prove it before a trial committee and will probably get kicked out of the union."
After the meeting the president came to me and said he wanted to have a talk about my accusation. I said that I hadn't made an accusation.
I said, "You made an accusation that you are company stooges. I didn't say that, but if you want to say it before all these workers you can say it and I'll accept what you say."
WHEN I TALK to Negro Stalinists, I know and feel that it is the party first, second and always. With this the question of Russia is always tied in. But it is never the Negroes first, no matter what they say. A close friend of mine went into the Communist Party. He asked me to attend a meeting for Howard Fast, the man who wrote Freedom Road. My friend told me that the average Negro who came to a CP meeting was welcome; they'd be all over him. I told him I was afraid to attend the meeting because I might get into trouble. But after persuasion by my friend I agreed to go in order to show him how they would act if you didn't agree with them.
The meeting opened. When Fast came on the platform the audience jumped and hollered like people in church. The Negroes acted like Moses had come to lead us, now we'll get across the river and all will be clear. Fast talked about the time he spent in the Federal prison. He said the ordinary white worker was for the Southern Koreans but that every Negro was opposed. He said the Negroes were in support of the Northern Koreans and were following them all the way. He discussed the Negro question in the United States. He said the Negroes, if the Communists had their way, would have a section in the center of the United States all for themselves. He said that Dr. DuBois had just become a man in the last four or five years. He said Paul Robeson had just become a man, a real man, ten years ago. If the Negroes got their emancipation Paul Robeson would be the Negro who had led them to it.
Two things were hitting me. According to Fast, Dr. DuBois didn't become a man until he was eighty-five years old. The other was what would happen to fifteen million Negroes if Robeson should pass on. All our hopes for our rights would be done. Fast said some more about self-determination for Negroes and the rest of his talk was on the Soviet Union. After he finished speaking I saw the same hollering, the same excitement of conversion by these leading Negroes.
Several questions were asked in one hundred percent agreement with Fast.
After five or six questions, I asked: "Why didn't Paul Robeson support the March on Washington which was a mass struggle for Negro rights, and out of which came the 8802 order?"
"What is the relationship of the Russian workers to production?"
Fast said he didn't know why Robeson didn't support the March on Washington movement. As to the second question: he would deal with the Russian miners first. He said the miners in Russia earned one hundred and fifty dollars a week. They all had their own beautiful homes, they had automobiles, and if the 1952 plan wasn't disrupted by war, there would be socialized bread, free bread. Then he sat down.
There were more questions asked by obvious CP members. Nearing the end, I raised my hand again.
I said, "You didn't answer my questions as I was thinking them. I'd like to know: Why didn't one of the leading Communists or why didn't the CP as a whole support the March on Washington Negro mass movement? Also, how much control do Russian workers have of production?"
Fast said he didn't know why the Communist Party, or Robeson, didn't support the March on Washington. The production in Russia was controlled by factory committees. He sat down again.
I got up again, "Who controls the factory committees? Are they like the UAW today where the national staff controls from the top down through the shop committees and the chief stewards? Does this control come from the workers on the line or from the Kremlin on down?"
"Another thing. This self-determination as you speak about it. I don't think Negroes want segregation into one area as you propose it. You mean Negroes controlling Negroes, in a section of the country by themselves—would you clarify that some too?"
At this time all the Negroes' and a few whites' eyes were real sharp like a bed of snakes, just tense. The Negro who brought me was shaky and nervous.
Fast jumped up, real vicious. "I don't know who you are or where you are from. But the Communist Party, like any other organization may make mistakes. But unlike any other organization we're only too damn glad to admit them."
One Negro jumped up and said in a vicious tone, "If you're after disrupting this meeting, I want you to know I supported the March on Washington movement."
I was very nervous, and my friend and I were looking for an attack. Fast came down and asked someone near me who I was. I told my friend we'd better get out. After we left my friend said he was really surprised at the way they acted. When he first went to the CP meetings they always tried to explain everything to him. He said he'd never go to another meeting.
SOME MONTHS BEFORE the war ended the company was laying off and transferring some of the workers into different plants of the company and into different classifications. I, along with some other workers, was transferred to one of the larger plants. I was put on a job where the majority of workers were Negroes. We had a Southern white chief steward. Many of the workers who had already been working this job were complaining that he wasn't much good. I worked there two weeks when one morning I noticed a new chief steward over us. I asked how he got to be chief steward and when? These workers began to tell me he was the regular chief steward, and what a militant fighter he was. He was a big man, weighing two hundred pounds or more and of some kind of foreign origin.
One of the Negro workers who was transferred with me said, "He looks big and rough enough to be a good union fighter."
Two or three days after this steward came in, our foreman fired one worker. We felt we would see the steward in action, but he didn't say much. A day or so after that another worker was fired, and again he didn't say much. Several of us began to raise hell with him, asking him why he didn't defend the workers and stop the action of the company.
I told him I heard this was the most militant plant in the U.A.W., but that it didn't seem to be as militant as the plant I had come from.
He explained that he had just got back to work. He had been fired three or four weeks before, along with twenty others for leading a strike against the company and how he and the rest had to be careful and quiet not to get fired again.
I asked him why in the hell he didn't give his button to someone that could fight and not be in such a position and come on back to work with us.
Many workers were saying the same thing, and the arguments between us and the chief steward were raging. A white woman spoke; she said that I was correct. That was new to me. I felt for the first time in my life a white woman had openly defended me against a white man. As she walked away I noticed she had on a chief steward button.
A few days later she came back, and the chief steward and I were in another argument. Again she said I was correct and began to tell me she was fired along with the others, but she wasn't keeping quiet on a grievance for fear she'd be fired again. I asked her her name. She told me Helen. She also told me where she worked. It was a short distance from where I was working. She asked me had I done much reading because she had a paper she wanted me to read. It was The Militant, the Trotskyist paper. I read The Militant and some of it I agreed with but I didn't understand most of it.
The chief steward asked me if I knew Helen. He said she was one of the best union women but very dangerous.
I asked him if she would get me fired.
He said it wasn't anything like that. She had radical ideas. I said I wanted to be a good unionist and as far as the part he was telling me to be afraid of, I would judge for myself.
The next time I saw Helen was at a union meeting. She took the floor. She gave me more to think about than I had ever had before. However there was still one doubt in my mind. She worked in a lily white department. When I asked her why, she said that the company used it as a skilled classification to keep Negro women out, but she had got one Negro woman who knew that type of work hired in her department. The woman quit because she felt strong resentment from the white women who worked there. But Helen said she was still looking for some Negro woman to work in there, and if I knew any who would accept she would be very glad to fight for them because that was one aim she wanted to achieve in that department. I went into the department several times to talk to her. I could feel resentment from the whites but she didn't seem to worry the least bit. She would always invite me back to talk with her.
A few weeks passed and Helen carried me to a social. We talked most of the night. After the party I was invited to a meeting the following Sunday. I felt comfortable at the meeting and thought that some day I might agree with these people and their way of thinking. At the meeting the Trotskyites told me they planned to eliminate segregation and discrimination. This was new to me seeing such a small group of people believing this. It was hard for me to see such a small group planning to do so much for the Negroes, and for the workers as a whole. I felt I had to tell their ideas to every worker and make every worker a member. I felt there had to be a majority before the things they spoke about could be accomplished. I went to meetings regularly for a month and then asked to join. I was very active. I went right from work to the office and sold papers. I'd sell six or seven dollars worth in the evening.
I was puzzled that Negroes didn't accept the ideas as I saw them. I thought the average Negro should want to join. When they held out I wondered what else was involved. This didn't change my thinking of building the organization. In two weeks I had a relative in. We sold pamphlets and papers together. We sold them even to Negro police. They would sometimes buy, or sometimes just laugh. We organized socials and held one every Saturday night. In a month we brought in ten Negro members. But I felt that I should have recruited one hundred. Many of the new members were active unionists and I thought we were on our way. Two men in my union and Helen were the people who were closest to me. We were carrying on a fight against the leaders of the union. In six months we had seventy-five or eighty Negroes attending meetings regularly and going out selling papers. I felt good to see this. I hadn't done any studying along political lines before. But I felt if these ideas could be told to every worker they couldn't hold out.
A few months went by and I began to wonder why the party had no resolution on the Negro question. They had one on Trade Unions, on the American question, on Europe and many other subjects. It was always in my mind that it wasn't necessary to them. The leadership never mentioned that any Negroes had ever done anything progressive. The only Negro they talked about was Frederick Douglass. It seemed to me that a Negro had to be in the party or else be a Frederick Douglass. There weren't any other Negroes, no singers, actors, leaders, nothing. Often I tried to compare the Negro Trotskyist leader, Rollings, with many Negroes I know. He couldn't compete. Rollings' role itself was top Negro in the party. It kept striking me that he played the same part in the Trotskyist party that Bowen did in the UAW. He was the type of Negro who felt that it was always he that was important. Only he understood anything. This was a constant agitation in my mind.
Rollings gave an educational about Frederick Douglass that showed how much we disagreed. During the question period I told him he hadn't mentioned the independent slave revolt of Negroes in the South during slavery. That it was due to their pressure and support that Douglass had been able to do what he did. The disagreement was sharp.
Rollings said, "The revolt meant nothing, if the North hadn't gone in the Negroes would be slaves today."
Another time he gave a class on Garvey and said, "Garvey was a man who hated white people," and that Garvey was nationalistic because he was a West Indian Negro. That was his main contribution about the Garvey Movement.
I got in an argument with him when I told him that the leader of the party, Leon Trotsky, didn't look at the Garvey Movement the way he was putting it forward.
Rollings said he didn't give a damn what Trotsky said, he guessed he knew what a nationalist was when a Negro formed his own organization and wouldn't let whites in it. "Negroes can't get any place without white help."
That was too much for me. Rollings gave nothing to the Negroes in an educational way. He told a friend of mine that I was nationalistic about Negroes and that it was his job to get me in line.
After the Garvey class a white comrade said he didn't think Rollings and I had such sharp differences to have such a big fight in the branch.
He told me, "Rollings is what all Negroes are going to have to come to in the final analysis. He looks at things not as a Negro but as a Marxist. The Negroes will have to forget they are Negroes and be Marxists."
I said, "That is the difference. If a Negro can forget he is a Negro, that is as big a difference as I want."
I began to see resentment on the faces of each leader every time a Negro took a different point of view. I started to feel much closer with the sixty workers on my line, in truth. They were three Polish, two Italian, two Russian workers and the rest hillbilly and Negroes. It would seem that this was where I should have had trouble because there were six white women also on our line. We talked and played and whispered together and there was not the least bit of resentment from the white men. You wouldn't believe your eyes. When we first started to work it seemed like we were among strange animals, but I talked to these women and men and felt freer than with some of the women in the party. I was a little afraid to talk freely in the party.
A few months passed and my cousin and I asked out two white women who were Trotskyites. They had known us for some time and accepted. We had a good time together. The next time we had a date after a meeting. There were two or three white men still at the hall and I could see that the women were trying to wait until everyone left. Finally all of us went out together. The white men walked with the women. My cousin and I walked behind. One of the women whispered that they would walk along with the whites and meet us later. This got me to thinking. Was this what they stood for all the time? My cousin and I talked it over.
He said, "Something is wrong if the women have to slip."
We met the women and they acted nervous. They were not nervous about being with us in general but were nervous about being seen by white men of the organization.
I asked them to explain why.
They said, "Well, you don't let everybody know your affairs."
But many times I'd seen white men and women who weren't married leaving a meeting. No one slipped or ducked or worried. I began to feel that Negro and white relations were a touchy situation in the party for all their talk.
Many Negroes began bringing complaints to Rollings and myself about remarks some white made to them that they resented. Rollings would always try to show these Negroes what the whites meant, trying to apologize for them, by saying, they didn't really understand whites. He said, "These are minor things and we always have to keep our minds on the overall objective."
On one occasion a young Negro who had recently joined was riding home with a white man who had been in the party five years and made this remark to him: "The Negroes are raising hell in the party about their equality. But under socialism, the whites will stay where they are and the Negroes will have to keep in their same place."
When I heard this I got very mad. I went to Rollings and tried to get him to bring the white man before the executive board or to bring it before the branch meeting because what the white guy said was not party policy, and it was making Negroes in the branch very angry. Nothing was done or said about it and the Negro involved, and his brother, left the organization. Many Negroes began to drop out.
Some said, "These people don't mean what they say. Take the question of white women. The women are afraid to let the men know if they go out with a Negro."
The men would tell us that it hurt the party, that we should be careful. Some came right out and said they were opposed to white women going out with Negroes at all.
One member of the party was a Negro doctor. He was treated differently from the worker members. He had a car and I and some other rank-and-filers felt that he made large contributions. Some of us felt that they made special privileges for him. He could take out a woman and it was like a white man. The leaders would even say that a woman wanted to see him. We asked him about it and he said they wanted to be examined, and since he was a doctor the leaders asked his help.
The Negro doctor told me he went to Buffalo to give an educational. He and the organizer of the branch walked home in the snow. Out of a blue sky the organizer asked the doctor where he stood on interracial marriage. They stood ankle deep in the snow and argued for an hour and a half. The organizer said he was opposed to any relations between Negroes and white women in the party. The doctor jumped about a foot.
The doctor left the party. I felt something was very wrong politically, but I just couldn't put my finger on it. I didn't quit but I attended fewer meetings. The doctor had given many educationals and I felt he knew politics and was serious. I felt bad over his leaving. Some Negro told me he left because the convention in Chicago was held in a hotel which wouldn't admit Negro members with the whites. The Negroes wanted to picket the hotel but the whites said it was more important to continue the convention. They explained that they were too busy and didn't have the time to fight on the issue of discrimination just then.
I talked to the doctor after he left. He said that the political education he got in the party meant much more to him than the education he got in college. He told me that many trade union leaders today got their political education through the Trotskyist and Communist Party. He said that he had also been around the Communist Party at one time. He had no use for them or for their maneuvering, or their politics, but on the question of Negro and white relations they stood way over the Trotskyist organization.
There were many other incidents too numerous to mention. I tried to keep it all inside me. There were only three Negroes left in the party out of a hundred. When I asked why, they told me we were in a period of reaction and that people got tired. I asked the leaders about the doctor. They told me he was middle-class. They said he'd rather be going about with his own circle of middle-class friends.
I still went to meetings once a month. I slept through every educational. I never learned anything. I began to feel that the meetings were a complete waste of time and that I could do something else more worthwhile.
I felt I should still be part for certain things they would say, not for what they were doing. Something was telling me not to say I was done. I'd get lonesome for meetings. But it didn't get better. A leader's wife would pass me on the stairs without speaking. She would turn her head away just like a Southerner. Yet, I found myself going back. I didn't know where else to go. After the Negroes dropped away, Christine wouldn't go any more. I could still feel warm toward them in the fraction meetings at the plant. In the fraction meetings I would promise to come around but it got harder every time.
Before the party's 1948 convention in New York I had a firm conviction that they felt it was the party first and last and always. This was just like the Communist Party. Negroes and workers never come first with them whatever they say in their writings.
At the 1948 convention in New York, all the Negroes were upset and meeting together.
When the session opened and the leader, James P. Cannon, came in, I saw the same thing that I'd seen at the Communist meeting with Howard Fast. Rollings acted like someone going into convulsions. It made me feel funny. He was worse than anyone else. He jumped up and hollered like the people do in church when they're getting converted. I clapped as much as the rest but Rollings' behaviour seemed like an act.
I heard that another leader was going to speak on a Negro Resolution which he had written to be presented at the convention. When he got up to speak, I was never so shocked and surprised and happy in all my life. I never had heard about his ability, just that he was a good speaker. I was looking for a smoothing over like Rollings always gave in Detroit. When I listened to this leader's general presentation, I felt I was floating some place. What really got me was when he said that no Negro, especially Negroes below the Mason and Dixon line, ever believed that their problems would be solved by writing or telegraphing congress.
He went on to say that, "the Negroes' independent struggle had a vitality and validity of its own." He said the workers as a whole are the ones we must rely upon. But that this didn't mean that the Negroes must not do anything until the labor movement actually came forward. The Negro struggle would help bring the workers forward. That was complete for me. I couldn't see how I would ever think of leaving after hearing him. I was tied and wedged into the party. I had wanted to speak but after hearing this leader, I never dreamed of speaking. I tore up my notes. I didn't think there was anything I needed to do. The convention accepted the Negro Resolution. I felt good. Now we had something, something to go by. I thought we wouldn't be bothered any more. We could go out and work. I thought the party would go overboard in carrying out these ideas.
When I got back to Detroit I heard that Rollings was giving me hell about something or other, but I felt so good I couldn't be bothered with this stuff. I wanted to do something. I recruited three Negroes in a month. I talked to Rollings about a group of friends I had around me. I said I would try to get them going around the Resolution. I thought we could use the Resolution for educationals and form a solid independent group around us. I spoke about the Resolution and all said they were ready to go. Another Negro brought four Negroes from Ford. A Negro preacher gave us a basement to meet in. We were on our way at last.
In a month though, I began to feel the same thing I had felt before the convention. The party had accepted the resolution on the Negro but I could see them pushing any idea of independent struggle to the rear. I experienced it with Rollings.
At every meeting of the Negro group he would say, "Let's try to get the union in it before we organize to do anything."
And after, he would want some of the white leaders in it, to give the line, write the programs, and connect it immediately to the union.
I would oppose this. I felt the group should plan for itself what action it wanted to take. These were our main differences. They sharpened day by day.
I spoke to the leader of the party in Detroit about the tension, and the attitudes in the meetings and executive meetings. He said it was only that everyone was busy. There wasn't time for friendly relations. Talk started again about Negroes and white women but I tried to ignore it and build my little group. The group was gaining members. Suddenly without previous discussion the party called me in and told me that the group had to be directed into the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People—the NAACP. They said this had to be done or the group had to be destroyed. Those were the words they used. They sent Rollings into the group to speak. He knew nothing about them but told them they should go join the NAACP. Most of them were already members but were sick of the do-nothing politics of the NAACP. I tried to hold the party to the Negro Resolution.
But they said, "Damn the Resolution. We're talking about this group going into the NAACP. Will you obey discipline or not?"
This hit me hard. Without the Resolution I didn't want the party.
I'd been working in the NAACP for two years. The membership fell from 23,000 to 3,000. If they took a leading role they could have jumped the membership several thousand overnight. But on the question involving Negroes they wouldn't oppose anything advanced by the UAW. It was like a company town relation with the UAW as the company. They were completely guided by the UAW bureaucrats. The UAW gave big donations. It gave jobs and a social life to certain Negroes. This was used as a club over the organization. They were afraid to take any independent position, especially if the rank and file was involved because it might get out of their hands and they couldn't control it. They were, and are, a thousand cases submitted every day of Negro mistreatment. They are completely ignored. The NAACP grew before the 1943 race riot. After the riot, the leadership was scared. They tried to divert all action into legal channels.
Many Negro G.I.'s were hostile to the NAACP when they returned from the army. They had written many letters to them from the army about grievances. The NAACP didn't do anything about it.
The soldiers said, "They tried to teach us how to live in a Jim Crow army."
For several months a Negro disc jockey attacked the NAACP viciously. He said he, his wife and friends would not join the branch here. He wrote a letter to the Negro press attacking the NAACP. I didn't see why. A friend told me the reason. The reverend of the church my friend attended had told the congregation the story behind it.
A few Negro leaders and a large rank-and-file support had been carrying on a vigorous campaign to break down a housing project on discrimination. This group had the support of a noted minister and a disc jockey. The pastor of my friend's church and the disc jockey went to the NAACP for support. The NAACP told them it would cooperate if this minister would withdraw from the organization. The disc jockey didn't feel this was necessary. After one week of debate within this organization, they felt they could get this minister to withdraw if this would help Negroes get into the housing project. The disc jockey and the clergyman met with this minister and he agreed to withdraw, but he said he had no confidence in the support of the NAACP. He had already gotten commitments from city officials for the organization. After he withdrew from the organization, the NAACP would not come in and gave no support. The housing project still remains segregated. This was the reason the disc jockey was attacking the NAACP so bitterly.
There was the Gordy case. Gorge's son bought a new Cadillac. He was stopped and put in jail two or three times a week when he drove it but there never were charges placed against him. He was in jail one Saturday night and Gordy went to get him out. Sunday morning two policemen went to Gordy's home to take the boy back to jail. They said they wanted to question him in connection with a robbery case.
Gordy said his son was in bed, "Where is your warrant?"
The police told Gordy, "We don't need a warrant."
They wouldn't let Gordy's son dress but put handcuffs on and began kicking him and slapping him as they walked toward the door. It was more than Gordy could stand. He got his rifle, went to the window, sighted the police. He fired twice killing one cop and wounding the other. The police came and shot up the house so bad you could see holes through it from front to back and then they used tear gas that they use in the war. They didn't give the women and children a chance to get out but just started shooting up the place. I was hurt not so much about Gordy and the police but the complete disregard the police force had for the women and children that were in the apartment.
During the Gordy shooting, the NAACP leaders were called out by some workers. The national office was informed and the director flew in from New York. There were seven thousand Negroes on the streets, and many times that day, they asked what the NAACP was going to do. At last there was something big they could handle. That was the general opinion. The NAACP director from the national office together with the local NAACP president talked with the Gordy family. They told them not to have anything to do with the Civil Rights Congress. If they did, Gordy would be sunk. The Civil Rights Congress, they said, was a Communist front organization.
When support for Gordy was raised at the board meeting of the NAACP a big shot got up and said, "Be careful what you put in the letter. We don't want to go overboard."
All the militancy was drawn out of the letter.
After the meeting that big shot told a friend of mine: "We have to be careful. The police are mad as hell."
My friend said, "The Negroes are mad as hell."
The big-shot answered only, "Well, yes."
It was raised in the NAACP board several times that the NAACP should go on record to support Gordy. They said it was a community case, and that the community should support it. As individuals we could support it.
A prominent lawyer got up and said, "We're raising hell like this is a racial case. We must be careful and remember that it is not."
Everybody knew it was a question of police brutality that was at issue. The fight went to the floor with every rank and file member fighting to help the Gordys. The vote was carried through the ranks for the NAACP to give support. It was carried on paper. I haven't heard of any support they gave.
Many Negroes, including myself, said, when Gordy got sentenced for life: "What does this mean? The leader of the NAACP said for Gordy to keep away from other groups because it would hurt him and when he follows their advice, he gets the longest term of prison possible under this state law."
These were a few of my experiences with the NAACP. When the Trotskyists told me to send this group into it, I felt bad because I'd seen it before. Sell the group out to the party. I had to be careful or I would lose my contacts and my friends in the union and I did lose some. I felt the party as a whole didn't mean what it had said at the convention. At no time did they follow the Resolution or encourage any kind of action by the Negroes.
Talk went around that I had broken the discipline of the Party in attending meetings of the group and that I should be tried. I held long discussions with leading comrades but had no direct answers. I was again floating around trying to put myself on the ground. I felt a sharp antagonism from the leaders, especially from Rollings.
The Party gave a New Year's social. This time there were sixty-five percent Negroes. I could see a big change since I'd been around. The white women seldom danced with the Negro men. If they were asked they made some excuse. I asked the wife of one of the leaders for a dance. She said no, she had a stomach ache. Soon she danced with a white man. The whites crowded around on one side of the hall and talked among themselves like at the union dances.
A Negro was expelled from the party for attending a meeting of the Negro group.
After the expulsion a white comrade told me, "That son of a bitch needs to be shot."
I couldn't agree with this statement that a Negro should be shot for not obeying discipline. I wouldn't want a Negro to say that to me. In the South the whites always say, so and so should be killed.
When the whites got up and said these things about Negroes I could only see my father telling me not to let any white man frighten me. It was the party leaders from the highest to the lowest, but never the rank-and-file. Most of them were always friendly and sympathetic to me. The leaders brought me up before the board for arranging a meeting with the group after they had said it must be sent into the NAACP. There were nine specific charges. They were too foolish to repeat here.
Rollings turned to a white fellow and said, "Take off on him, Jack." I felt like some son of a bitch was getting ready to get me. It was cooking me to death. I just felt sick. They knew my temper. They tried to get me to blow up so they could expel me. I just sat there with my eyes closed and listened.
I kept thinking: "Here these people say they are for a new freedom."
I kept thinking about Richard Wright's story of a trial in the. Communist Party.
I thought, "If they try to jump me, or if anyone tries to keep me from leaving, I'll kill the son of a bitch."
Once before I had wanted to take something with me to the meeting to protect myself. I wanted to tell them what they stood for, and what they're good for and then walk out. I was sure that if I told them about their politics they would have tried to beat me. I never was ordered so sharply in the South as in the party. Even P. L. and the other lawyers never talked to me the way these people did. On jobs in the South I could quit or get fired. But I had to sit and listen and take whatever the party said. It was like the white men and the Negro women in the South. I couldn't get away.
These were political questions with me. I went into the NAACP not because the party said to go in. I went to fight restaurant discrimination, not because I wanted to sit side of some white person. I did these things because I see them as a struggle for the rights of Negroes in this country. Any Negro who takes part in this struggle is part of me and any white person who takes part in this struggle is part of me.
I felt worse about the party than I felt in the South. The party got me to believe them. In the South nobody ever made me believe they'd accept me. But these people I took in my corner and I felt a sharp pain. I felt the way the average human being feels when a friend double crosses him. You expect it from an enemy, then it's not surprising. But they stood like a shining star over these questions and when I saw them fall I felt bad. I got to the place where I couldn't see any comparison between them and a workers' party. That was the end of my life with those people. It was the beginning too because I was never happier at any time in my life than when I left the Trotskyist Party.
For the future I can't make any blueprints but I know where I feel best. That's in the plant with my friends on the line when we're fighting the company and fighting the union on an issue. I have a feeling this story of mine isn't nearly finished but I want to stop now for the time being. One last thing I want to say:
I am just like any one of you. I didn't have anything whatsoever to do with where I was born. I didn't have anything to do with whether I would be male or female. I didn't have anything to do with whether I would be black or white. But if you can absorb this story, it may enable you to understand who you are. I have never lived one day outside the United States.
All of these things and many others, I have felt, seen and experienced here in the United States.
Some workers have read the draft of this book and have asked me: "Well, we know all this, so what?"
I don't think everybody knows all this. I have never seen all this in print anywhere and that is why I have written it and had it printed.
And some others have asked me, "Yes, it is good that people should know this but what is the answer?"
This means that I am supposed to give a big program about the world revolution and freedom for this or that and so on.
I have had enough of those arguments. Any reader of this book knows what I want and I will fight for it however I can and wherever I can.
Source; Indignant Heart - Testimony of a Black Worker; Charles Denby - Pluto Press, London 1979.