The undersigned members of the District Negro Commission in consultation with rank and file members of the party have drafted the following report for the consideration of the District Negro Commission. This report does not represent the opinions of the Negro Commission, but only the views of those who have signed this document and the opinions in whole or part of those they consulted with.
Due to the fact that this is a pre-convention discussion period we have decided to mimeograph and circulate this report among the general membership as a contribution to that discussion.
Report to the
District Negro Commission, 1956
The surprising front page headline of the People’s World of Sept. 21, entitled “How Integration Won in Louisville,” forces us, now that the election campaign is over and the pre-convention discussion period has begun, to review critically the effects of the turn of the party toward the Democrats upon our relations with the Negro community.
The support by the P.W. of the Louisville Plan for “voluntary integration” (which the Negroes call “voluntary segregation”) is only one of a series of gross violations of the principles and tradition of militant struggle against Jim Crow which various party leaders and even the National Committee have committed us to.
The following examples of this tendency will be examined in detail:
- 1. The support of the Louisville Plan.
- 2. The question of the Louisiana “Right to Work” law.
- 3. The question of Civil Rights legislation at the 84th Congress.
- 4. The support of the “moderate white supremacists.”
- 5. The question of prejudice.
* * *
3. Civil Rights in Congress. The history of congressional legislation since the Supreme Court decision of 1954 [Brown v. Board of Education] reveals that one of the important factors in the unanimity of the decision by a court which included both Republicans and Southern Bourbons was that it provided a formula for keeping the issue at least temporarily off the floor of Congress.
This was highly desirable to the Republicans because Eisenhower had categorically promised during the 1952 campaign that he and his party would fight the Southern filibuster and get rid of Rule 22.
It was completely acceptable to the Democrats because every time the Civil Rights issue is debated it threatens to tear their party apart.
Chief Justice Warren’s formula was further acceptable even to the Bourbons in principle because it lacked implementation and the clear perspective was to turn enforcement over to the Southern states themselves.
This attempt to remove the Civil Rights question as a whole from the responsibility of the legislative branch of government and to turn it over to the courts was fairly successful for the first three years of the Eisenhower administration. An occasional futile face-saving gesture on the part of the few ADA [Americans for Democratic Action] congressmen did not make a ripple in the sublime peace between the capitalist political factions around this question. Even the occasional outbursts of indignation and resentment in which Representatives [Adam Clayton] Powell and [Charles] Diggs expressed the feelings of the Negro people failed to de-rail the congressional conspiracy of silence on the Civil Rights question.
The Democrats in the North and West followed the policy of concentrating a great deal of propaganda and some action on the state level around the Civil Rights question. The object of this apparently over balanced campaign on the state level of politics was to establish in the minds of labor and in the Negro community that the Democratic Party stood for Civil Rights in spite of the fact that this party was united in a conspiracy to keep the question off the floor of the national Congress, and to keep it out of the 1956 election campaign.
The mounting pressure of the Negro protest and discontent could not be denied, however, and in spite of all that a bi-partisan anti-Negro Congress could do, it spilled over onto the floor of the House of Representatives. It took the form of rather innocuous proposals by the administration for a bi-partisan committee to “investigate” violations of Civil Rights and work through the president. It further set up a bit of legal machinery to enhance the prestige and authority of judicial actions against violations of Civil Rights. There was reference neither to FEP [Fair Employment Practices], segregation nor lynching. Nevertheless even this very mild Civil Rights bill placed both capitalist parties in the same dilemma as before the Supreme Court decision: the great majority of congressmen of both parties were committed in advance to promises to the Negro people, yet the capitalist bosses of both parties were committed to the maintenance of the status quo in the South as a fundamental condition of their profits and the political stability of capitalist rule.
The only condition under which the Democrats could permit the Civil Rights bill to reach the floor of the House was if they could be assured in advance that it would be killed in the Senate. The only way that the Republicans could agree to kill it in the Senate would be to keep it off the floor, because Eisenhower’s promise to fight the filibuster was still fresh in the minds of at least a considerable section of the Negro leadership.
Consequently, it was with great deliberation and planning that the bi-partisan opponents of Civil Rights engineered the elaborate series of maneuvers to kill the Civil Rights bill in the 84th Congress.
The object from the beginning must have been to make the Judiciary Committee be its grave. And the plan could never have worked without the concurrence from the beginning of the so-called “liberal bloc” in both houses.
Following are the maneuvers which were necessary to carry out this betrayal of the Civil Rights struggle. Steps in which all factions played their assigned parts:
- A. Delay in the House until closing hours of the Congress.
- B. Uncontested referral from the floor of the Senate to the Judiciary Committee.
- C. Locking the bill in the Judiciary Committee.
Delay in the House. The role of all major characters in the Punch and Judy show is demonstrated by the action of the House Rules Committee. On June 21 after innumerable delays of which this episode is representative, the House Rules Committee was committed to clear the bill for a hearing on the floor of the House. Those that played the role of “Civil Rights supporters” had a clear majority on the committee. But 20 Southern congressmen appeared to testify against the bill. Under cover of this semi-filibuster, the Civil Rights supporters absented themselves from the Committee until there was no longer a quorum. At this point Rep. Colmer (Dem. Miss.) called for a quorum, and Chm. Smith (Dem. Va.) declared the hearing adjourned. This automatically postponed it for another week at a time when minutes were precious.
The capitalist press said that the Civil Rights supporters had been “caught napping.”
Referral to the Senate Judiciary Committee. The extra week’s delay in the House permitted other legislation to precede the Civil Rights bill in the House and so it was not finally passed there until July 23. It was abundantly clear to the most casual observer that it was unimportant what happened in the House by this time. It was understood that the bill was headed for the Senate Judiciary Committee where it was scheduled for oblivion. The New York Times of July 20 reported that the debate in the House was “carried on, despite the intensity of the fight, with a large measure of good humor...the whole struggle was exposed in argument as being a futile operation...it was evident the House Members had made it a vehicle for putting themselves in the record for their own campaign.” In other words, the Civil Rights bill was being used as a political football by the liberal congressmen.
So the bill was cynically voted on and passed on July 23. Then it went to the floor of the Senate. The only possibility of keeping the bill alive would have been an objection from the floor to its being referred to [James] Eastland’s Judiciary Committee. But some strange coincidence took Senator Hennings (who was largely in charge of strategy for the Civil Rights Senate consideration) off the floor of the Senate at the strategic moment, and according to the NY Times (July 24) he “was not on the floor to object....Someone of the civil rights group was caught napping, and the bill went quickly and firmly under the jurisdiction of the Eastland panel.”
Locking the bill in Committee. The basic device by which the bill was locked in committee was this: those senators playing the role of Civil Rights supporters, although they had a majority on the Committee, agreed not to report out this particular bill except by unanimous vote of the entire committee.
To obscure this particular piece of treachery on the part of the “liberal” Democrats sitting on the Committee and to attempt to camouflage their role as the “caught napping Civil Rights supporters” on the Senate floor, Senator Lehman on July 24 moved to discharge the bill from committee. This was brushed aside on technical grounds by Senate Majority Leader [Lyndon] Johnson and defeated.