Death Blow to Jim Crow

Death Blow to Jim Crow: The National Negro Congress and the Rise of Militant Civil Rights

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    Death Blow to Jim Crow
    Book Description:

    During the Great Depression, black intellectuals, labor organizers, and artists formed the National Negro Congress (NNC) to demand a "second emancipation" in America. Over the next decade, the NNC and its offshoot, the Southern Negro Youth Congress, sought to coordinate and catalyze local antiracist activism into a national movement to undermine the Jim Crow system of racial and economic exploitation. In this pioneering study, Erik S. Gellman shows how the NNC agitated for the first-class citizenship of African Americans and all members of the working class, establishing civil rights as necessary for reinvigorating American democracy.Much more than just a precursor to the 1960s civil rights movement, this activism created the most militant interracial freedom movement since Reconstruction, one that sought to empower the American labor movement to make demands on industrialists, white supremacists, and the state as never before. By focusing on the complex alliances between unions, civic groups, and the Communist Party in five geographic regions, Gellman explains how the NNC and its allies developed and implemented creative grassroots strategies to weaken Jim Crow, if not deal it the "death blow" they sought.

    eISBN: 978-1-4696-0196-0
    Subjects: Sociology, History

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-iv)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. v-viii)
  3. Acknowledgments
    (pp. ix-xiv)
  4. Introduction
    (pp. 1-8)

    In May 1935, a dozen top black intellectuals and civil rights advocates, in collaboration with a handful of white allies, came together at Howard University to take “a candid inventory of the position of the Negro in our national economic crisis.” John Preston Davis, a Harvard-trained black intellectual and leading critic of the New Deal, introduced the three days of discussions by saying, “The first word is mine. But the last word is yours.” Despite the passage of a wide array of New Deal reforms, more than 4 million out of 12 million African Americans remained in poverty. “Looking fifty...

  5. PRELUDE Let Us Build the National Negro Congress
    (pp. 9-18)

    During the half century before the formation of the National Negro Congress (NNC), the federal government developed a Jim Crow society based on a national ideology of white supremacy. Between the demise of Reconstruction in the 1870s and the turn of the century, southern governments disfranchised southern blacks and poor whites, barred them from all but the most exploitative employment opportunities, and denied them protection under the law. For example, only 28 of 604 Supreme Court cases concerning the Fourteenth Amendment between 1868 and 1911 dealt with the civil rights of African Americans. During this period, courts used the Fourteenth...

  6. CHAPTER ONE Labor’s Triumph and the “Black Magna Carta” in the Chicago Region, 1936–1939
    (pp. 19-62)

    At 9:30 p.m. on a cold December night in 1936, employees at Wilson & Bennett Company in Chicago stopped working inside the metal barrel factory. They decided that night that they had had enough of wages that ranged from sixteen to twenty-five cents an hour. “This is a sit down,” they shouted, and then they quickly drew up a placard that read, “send the cio.” The Congress of Industrial Organizations soon thereafter answered their call in the person of Eleanor Rye. Over the past year, Rye had become a stalwart organizer for the Labor Committee of the National Negro Congress...

  7. CHAPTER TWO Negro Youth Strike Back against the “Virginia Way” in Richmond, 1937–1940
    (pp. 63-108)

    As a child in 1920s Richmond, James E. Jackson Jr.’s earliest memories were the sound and smell of tobacco workers. “When the quitting whistle blew,” Jackson exited his father’s pharmacy and anticipated the arrival of the black factory workers by the noticeable smell of tobacco in the wind.

    These workers had no washing facilities or locker rooms at the factories, so they walked home in soiled clothing, and in the colder months they fashioned overcoats out of burlap tobacco sacks. The smell of tobacco was unmistakably sweet but came to represent something far more bitter. The majority of these black...

  8. CHAPTER THREE Civilization Has Taken a Holiday: Violence and Security in the Nation’s Capital
    (pp. 109-148)

    In February 1940, John P. Davis walked south from the Florida Avenue office of the National Negro Congress (NNC) to Capitol Hill for an appearance before the Senate Judiciary Committee. The committee had reopened hearings on the Wagner-Capper–Van Nuys antilynching bill and had offered Davis the opportunity to testify in its favor on behalf of the NNC. Davis, the NNC’s national secretary, declared that his goal in appearing was to “expose the fallaciousness of the reasoning of the opponents of the bill who declare that lynching as a crime is on the decline.” Davis believed that the southern senators...

  9. INTERLUDE Black and White, Red, and Over? The Congress Splits in Washington
    (pp. 149-164)

    More than 1,200 delegates came to Washington, D.C., in April 1940 “to close ranks, lock hands, and courageously deal with the crisis which today threatens the security of every Negro in America.” The National Negro Conference (NNC) purposefully held the conference in the nation’s capital when Congress was in session in order to declare to the federal government that civil rights activists would not be intimidated by the Dies Committee or filibustering southern senators. In a letter to the NNC greeting its upcoming conference, President Roosevelt wrote: “It is now more than ever important that the place of a minority...

  10. CHAPTER FOUR Finding the North Star in New York: Home Front Battles during the Second World War
    (pp. 165-212)

    In the fall of 1942, Captain Hugh Mulzac launched the newly builtBooker T. WashingtonLiberty Ship into the Pacific Ocean. As the ship made its way from California to Panama, the captain surveyed his crew of “forty-two fine sailors” of “eighteen different nationalities . . . from thirteen different states” and asked himself, “What sweeter triumph could a man wish for himself, his race, and his country?” The departure of the 10,000-ton war supply ship marked the climax of a twenty-year struggle for Mulzac. Though he had obtained a captain’s license in the early 1920s, with the exception of...

  11. CHAPTER FIVE The World’s “Firing Line”: South Carolina’s Postwar Internationalism
    (pp. 213-254)

    On October 20, 1946, in Columbia, South Carolina, W.E.B. Du Bois threw down the gauntlet. “The future of American Negroes,” he told an audience of 861 delegates of the Southern Negro Youth Congress (SNYC), “is in the South.” Breaking from the trend of black intellectuals who called for migration to the North and West of the United States, Du Bois instead cast the South as the “battle-ground of a great crusade.” Southern youth, he declared, would need to make “the Great Sacrifice” to “rescue this land.” He then referenced Moses on the edge of the Promised Land in the Old...

  12. CONCLUSION Gone with What Wind?
    (pp. 255-270)

    “There’s a limit to human endurance,” Thelma Dale wrote in 1946, and “I’m afraid I’ve reached that [limit].” The Cold War had begun to curtail the “Death Blow to Jim Crow” of the National Negro Congress (NNC). Although the postwar era seemed ripe for sustaining a civil rights movement in cities like Detroit, San Francisco, and Columbia, the NNC faced difficulties holding together a coalition that included CIO members, Communists, and liberals in the midst of an unprecedented wave of government repression sponsored by the attorney general, Congress, and the FBI. “Even though [it] doesn’t sound very Marxist,” Dale wrote,...

  13. Notes
    (pp. 271-342)
  14. Index
    (pp. 343-354)