Randolph on Jim Crow

A.  Philip Randolph and Grant Reynolds testifying 1948 against segregation in the military.
A. Philip Randolph and Grant Reynolds testifying 1948 against segregation in the military.

So, should Congress pass a Jim Crow draft, there could be “a mass disobedience movement along the lines of the magnificent struggles of the people of India against British imperialism.” This was the same mood of rebellion Thurgood Marshall, NAACP special counsel, had warned about in 1940, only now it was explosive. Randolph added that: “In resorting to the principles and direct-action techniques of Gandhi, whose death was publicly mourned by many members of Congress and President Truman, Negroes will be serving a higher law than any passed by a National Legislature in an era [in] which racism spells our doom.”

Randolph continued:

From coast to coast in my travels I shall call upon all Negro veterans to join this civil disobedience movement and to recruit their younger brothers in an organized refusal to register and be drafted. 

Many veterans, bitter over Army Jim Crow, have indicated that they will act spontaneously in this fashion, regardless of any organized movement. “Never again,” they say with finality.

I shall appeal to the thousands of white youth in schools and colleges who are today vigorously shedding the prejudices of their parents and professors. I shall urge them to demonstrate their solidarity with Negro youth by ignoring the entire registration and induction machinery.

And finally I shall appeal to Negro parents to lend their moral support to their sons, to stand behind them as they march with heads high to Federal prisons as a telling demonstration to the world that Negroes have reached the limit of human endurance, that, in the words of the spiritual, we will be buried in our graves before we will be slaves.

Randolph explained that he had adopted this confrontational strategy as a desperate last resort because of the gross hypocrisy of the committee’s chairman and of his party, the Republican:

Your party, the party of Lincoln, solemnly pledged in its 1944 platform a full-fledged congressional investigation of injustices to Negro soldiers. Instead of that long overdue probe, the Senate Armed Services Committee on this very day is finally hearing testimony from two or three Negro veterans for a period of 20 minutes each. The House Armed Services Committee and Chairman [Walter C.] Andrews went one step further and arrogantly refused to hear any at all.

Since we cannot obtain an adequate Congressional forum for our grievances, we have no other recourse but to tell our story to the peoples of the world by organized direct action. I do not believe that even a wartime censorship wall could be high enough to conceal news of a civil disobedience program.

If we cannot win your support for your own party commitments, if we cannot ring a bell in you by appealing to human decency, we shall command your respect and the respect of the world by our united refusal to cooperate with tyrannical injustice.

Since the military with their southern biases, intend to take over America and institute total encampment of the populace along Jim Crow lines, Negroes will resist with the power of nonviolence, with the weapons of moral principles, with the good-will- weapons of the spirit; yes, with the weapons that brought freedom to India.

I feel morally obligated to disturb and keep disturbed the conscience of Jim Crow America.

A. Philip Randolph leads protest against a Jim Crow Army outside the Democratic National Committee.
A. Philip Randolph leads protest against a Jim Crow Army outside the Democratic National Committee.

To the counsel of Senator Wayne Morse, Republican of Oregon, that Randolph give “very serious thought to the legal aspects of such a movement,” because there could be “indictments for treason and very serious repercussions,” Randolph responded:

I would anticipate Nation-wide terrorism against Negroes who refuse to participate in the armed forces, but I believe that that is the price we have to pay for democracy that we want. In other words, if there are sacrifices and sufferings, terrorism, concentration camps, whatever they may be, if that is the only way by which Negroes can get their democratic rights, I unhesitatingly say that we have to face it.

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I would contend that we are serving a higher law than that law with its legal technicalities, which would include the groups which fights for democracy even in the face of a crisis you would portray, I would contend that they are serving a higher law than that law.

There were no television cameras then to transmit the bombshell moment to the nation, but The New York Timesgave the confrontation page one treatment, Newsweek magazine gave it a two-page spread, other publications like PMmagazine gave it featured coverage, and the black press, from coast to coast, was in a tizzy.

See headnote on Ending Segregation in the Armed Services,

The Papers of Clarence Mitchell Jr. Volume III