Episode 11: Unity in Diversity , Part 2 (Full Episode)

Episode 11: Unity in Diversity , Part 2 (Full Episode)


Hello and welcome to African Elements.
In this episode, Unity In Diversity? We saw in Episode 10 two approaches to the
problems facing African Americans as a result of the failures of Reconstruction. The
integrationist and the Black Nationalist approaches were fundamentally in opposition to one another
and the conflict between WEB DuBois and Booker T. Washington was simply built in to
their philosophical ideologies. In part two, we will explore other ideological
approaches. Just like integration and Black Nationalism, the approach to problems in the 1920s
and 1930s are each going to have their own set of strength and weaknesses. As we also see,
they carry with them their own built in conflicts with other philosophical approaches. Can
there be unity in diversity? All that, coming up next. As new immigrants
arrive from Eastern Europe, largely as a result of the chaos brought
on by World War I, many African Americans are going to find a good deal of value in some
of their insights and philosophies that these new arrivals brought with them. Because
many of the Eastern European rivals have faced similar exploitation and oppression in their
own countries, perhaps they will make affective partners in fighting oppression and the
United States. Perhaps the class based solutions built into the philosophies of socialism
and communism will offer a way of getting around the limitations of race. Perhaps, but
along with their limitations, there are also built in conflicts between the class based
philosophy and the philosophies of integration and racial separatism. From
1910-1920, African Americans were on the move. In what historians call, ì The
Great Migration,î an estimated half a million African Americans flocked to northern
cities. In my view, the reasons for the migration are often oversimplified. I want to make
it clear that this is just my perception here. I’m not going to directly contradict
your text in that the commonly held perceptions of the causes of the migration are accurate;
first, African Americans left to escape southern discrimination and racial oppression;
Second, the boll weevil infestation of Southern cotton fields in the late 1910s forced many
sharecroppers and laborers to search for alternative employment opportunities; Third, the enormous
expansion of war industries created job openings for blacks mostly in service
jobs vacated by new factory workers. There’s one cause, however that has
been critical to some other themes that we’ve discussed earlier, but is also often
overlooked ñ that is, the overproduction of cotton. Around the turn of the twentieth century,
two things started to happen. First, new machinery greatly increased planters’ capacity to
harvest cotton crops. Second, they were very few viable economic options available in the south.
Many platters tried their hand at wheat, figs, and various other crops, but cotton as
it turned out proved to be the only sure bet. There were many African Americans who,
after emancipation, vowed that they never again wanted to see another cotton ball in
their lifetimes – even if they returned to cotton. Better capacity to harvest cotton along
with the fact that everybody and their cat trying to harvest it, caused cotton to flood
U.S. markets. The result is typical supply and demand economics: supply goes up
beyond the demand, the price plummets. The reason this is important is that I
believe it is no accident that at this particular moment in our history, the United States
for the very first time begins to build an empire abroad, both in the Caribbean and in the
Philippines. From its vantage point in the Philippines, US venture capitalists gained access to
new markets and a place to offload excess goods, in this case, cotton creating new demand
and thereby stabilizing the price. So clearly, there is a link the forces that are
drawing African Americans into the military ventures in the Philippines and the circumstances
drawing African Americans northward — that is economic depression in the south
and need to expand economically. While a few went west, many blacks made their
way northward to take advantage of labor opportunities made available during World War I. Most
went to the northern cities of Chicago, Detroit, Saint Louis, and Harlem. The cultural
renaissance that took place in these cities will be discussed in the next lecture, but what’s important to
note here is that the segregation and discrimination they experienced in the north was usually
less overt, but many northern cities did embrace Jim Crow segregation. As we saw in Part
1 of this lecture, racism and racial violence was far from unheard of in northern cities.
Another aspect of the north that they encountered with a large numbers of ethnic Europeans
were also flocking to U.S. shores. That is the reason why when the Ku Klux Klan resurfaced
it expanded its focus to include ethnic Europeans, as we saw in Part 1 of this lecture.
The Great Migration changed the composition of the Northern workforce. For a brief time,
African Americans were able to find an abundance of good paying jobs. In addition, women —
both black and white — also filled the labor vacuum as many of the men were off to war.
Interestingly, the change in composition also brought changes in the sociology of work. For example,
before World War I it was practically unheard of to have a female secretary. As women filled
secretarial positions during the wartime labor shortage it was coincidentally at this time
that the job of a secretary became a predominantly female occupation. Also coincidentally
the status and compensation for that job, while relatively high for jobs that were
available to women, was lower than it had been when it was a male occupation. The same thing
happened after World War II with telephone operators for example when women began to fill
those positions. When the men returned from war the occupation continued to be associated as
“women’s work” and the status of the occupation was also lowered. After the
war, however, when white men found African Americans, ethnic Europeans, and
women occupying the positions that they had left I’m sure you can imagine there would be a
great deal of labor unrest. That is the reason why in 1919, in addition to the racial
tension that was discussed in part 1 of this lecture, class tensions also erupted in the form
of 3600 labor strikes. As many groups began to see other ethnic groups as competitors
for jobs, there was a great deal of pressure on labor unions that were often ethnically
exclusive. Again, I mentioned this before, but I’m sure you can imagine the complete foolishness
of racial exclusion in labor unions because it made it easy for employers to pay ethnic groups
against one another by using them as strikebreakers. Class unity presented a major threat to
the elite because unity meant that the employers could not play the divide and conquer
game, the political and economic establishment did little to stem the tide of ethnic
backlash, and in many ways deliberately stirred it up by using a 1917 Bolshevik Revolution in Russia
to steer up fear and hatred for Eastern Europeans and Russians fleeing the civil conflict.
The ideals of the revolution brought workers party unity that cut across ethnic lines. The
extent of the hostility can be seen in the following excerpt of Democracy Now!
that aired on August 22, 2007. Sacco and Vanzetti were Italian-American
anarchists who were arrested and accused of murder at the height of the post-Bolshevik Revolution
Red Scare and debates over immigration quotas. After a notoriously prejudiced trial in
1920, they were sentenced to death by a judge who called them “anarchistic bastards.”
Their execution is infamous around the world and came to symbolize the intolerance and
injustice of the American establishment towards immigrants and radical dissenters. Protests against
their execution rocked every major city around the world in the days leading up to their
execution. Sacco and Vanzetti: The Men, the Murders, and the Judgment of Mankind is a new
book that explores the lives and ideas of these two men and the enduring relevance of their
trial. Bruce Watson is author of the new book. I spoke to him yesterday from Boston,
where Sacco and Vanzetti were executed eighty years ago, and asked him to talk about
the context of the United States in 1920. It was a very jittery time. It was
supposed to be a time of peace, but, in fact, 1919 was a year of tumultuous strikes. There
had just been a plague flu epidemic that had just ended. Of course, 100,000 soldiers, American
soldiers, had died. And it was a very tumultuous year … And so, at
midnight on June 2, 1919, eight bombs in eight cities went off all up
and down the East Coast, in churches, in homes. In fact, one man blew himself up on the
steps of the attorney general’s home, the attorney general of the United States, right
across the street from where FDR was living at the time. Well, this set
in motion a huge crackdown that later became known as the Palmer
Raids. And hundreds of radicals were rounded up and deported. And right after that, as that
was waning, Sacco and Vanzetti were arrested. It was right on the edge of that
hysteria. And they were tried a year later, when some of that was still going on. …
And both of them, however, began to labor in the American system that was very
unfair to Italians at the time. They were on the very bottom of the ladder. They were doing
the most menial jobs ó Vanzetti, in particular. He worked as a dishwasher in a totally
slimy kitchen at a very rich restaurant. He worked loading bricks and building dams and
just the absolute most menial labor, spent a lot of time homeless living on the street.
Sacco had a little bit better life. He worked as a shoe trimmer. He took a course and
learned ó an apprenticeship and learned to be an apprentice shoe trimmer in the Boston
area, where there are a lot of shoe factories, and he actually made pretty good money. But
Vanzetti was not in that situation at all. Both men came to anarchism in around
1912 or ’13. And anarchism was a creed at that time, widespread among Italian
immigrants. You have to remember these are people who came over and had an American dream.
They felt that this was going to be the land of plenty, and they saw quite the opposite.
They were discriminated against. They were beaten down. They were denied jobs. Cops often
arrested them. And they were drawn to this creed of Italian anarchism. Italian anarchists in
those days would tour the country to speak to Italian immigrants, and they would sing. Some of them
would sing songs, and they accompanied themselves on the mandolin. They were dodging police.
They cut a very romantic figure that appealed to Sacco and Vanzetti and many other
immigrants. Anarchism is basically the belief that someday humanity will come to the point where they
won’t need a government. Italians, of course, had had nothing but an oppressive government,
as far as they could remember, and they couldn’t imagine a government of the people, by
the people, for the people that would actually work for the people. All they knew was a
government that oppressed and hounded and spied on people, etc. So they hoped, they dreamed that
someday there would be no government, no need for a government. … And
seated at the trial is ó seated at the bench is a man named Judge Webster
Thayer, an absolute devout hater of anarchists. He’s a super patriot. He has sworn ó he said
many times he’s desperately afraid of the anarchist doctrine, of the Red Scare, the Red
Doctrine. He’s sworn that he’s going to do anything he can to stop anarchism from taking over.
… And so, it went ahead just after midnight on this night. First Sacco and then
Vanzetti were led to the chair and given 2,000 volts and carried out. … And
the response around the world? … And around the world, there were
protests, there were riots. The people threw ó uprooted lampposts in Paris, threw them through
plate-glass windows. They attacked embassies. The Moulin Rouge was damaged. In Geneva, people
took it out on American targets. They targeted stores selling Lucky Strike cigarettes
and theaters showing Douglas Fairbanks films. There were strikes all over South
America, shut down transportation. The American flag was burned on the steps of the American
embassy in Johannesburg. The riots went on. Three people were killed in riots in Germany. The
riots went on for a few days, and then finally they stopped. And Sacco and
Vanzetti ó the funeral in Boston attracted 200,000 people that marched
through the streets of Boston to the cemetery where they were cremated. It’s on
this stage that A. Philip Randolph stepped onto the scene. In a clear departure
with WEB Du Bois and the NAACP, Randolph opposed involvement in World War I. He also
clearly recognized that it was in the interest of the economic elite to stir up racial and
ethnic tension so that one group can be played against the other. He wrote, “When no profits
are to be made from race friction no one will longer be interested in stirring up race
prejudice.” To that end he began an uphill battle to gain recognition for the Brotherhood Of
Sleeping Car Porters union in the American Federation of Labor. The Pullman
Palace car Company was the largest single employer of black people. It
catered to affluent whites who were accustomed to seeing African Americans as
servants and serving in menial roles. While the $67 average monthly pay which
amounted to up to $300 with tips was relatively high compared to other types of employment open
to African Americans, it did come at a price. African American porters were constantly
deluged with insults and racial epithets from their white patrons. Like house servants, they
were on call 24 hours a day. Time spent preparing the car and assisting passengers, which could
take anywhere from one to five hours was considered off the clock and uncompensated.
Additionally, porters had to pay out of pocket for shoe polish and other work related materials.
They had to buy their own meals, pay for their own lodging at stopovers, and buy two
uniforms a year-expenses that ate up nearly half of their monthly salary. Although many
African Americans enjoyed a middle-class income, they were still paid less than white
workers who were doing the same job. Here again, here it’s easy to see the
threat to white workers. Having a labor force that was willing to do the same job for less
money should have made clear to white workers that an interracial union organizing for
equal pay and benefits would improve conditions for African Americans while at the same
time protecting white workers from being undercut by cheaper African American labor.
Nevertheless, it took a decade for the AFL to pull it’s head out and issue a charter to the
Brotherhood Of Sleeping Car Porters formally granting it recognition as a union in 1935.
Like socialism, communists sought to set aside racial differences in favor of a class-based
solution to economic exploitation. The Communist Party recognized that African Americans,
women, and poor whites shared a similar condition as exploited members of the working class
and that racism and ethnic division were the primary barriers addressing that
exploitation. That is the reason why from the outset, the Communist Party sought to eliminate
racial chauvinism from its ranks. They did so by elevating African Americans like Cyril
Briggs to key leadership positions within the party who openly advocated alliance with
working class whites. Both Briggs and the Communist Party recognized that racism had to be
rooted out of the white working class so that an alliance could be forged based on common
interest. To address the primary barrier to working class unity, racism, the Communist Party
was vigorous in eliminating racist members from its ranks — almost to a fault. At one
point the expulsion of antiracist members began to resemble a witchhunt in which if a
party member wanted another member expelled all they had to do is accuse them of racism.
The Communist Party leadership would hold hearings putting the accused racist in the
difficult position of proving that they are not racist. What does one say to that?
I have friends who are black? The main difference between the
communists and the socialists was that socialists like A. Philip Randolph sought to work within United
States institutions such as the American Federation of Labor, and as a result, he was bound by
the constructs of race relations in the United States. The Communist Party was an
international organization headquartered in the Soviet Union. The differences between the Communist
Party and the socialists may seem subtle but they were enough to keep the two groups from
effectively working together. A. Philip Randolph didn’t particularly like the idea of giving up
control to an international organization — he believed that control and leadership should be from
within the United States. Obviously, the limitations on working within US institutions are
similar to those at the NAACP faced in that they were often hostile to issues of racial and
social justice. Many African Americans who joined the Communist Party did so recognizing that
central weakness, but many more who are sympathetic to the left-wing ideals of the Communist
Party did not join — why? To many African Americans the Communist Party was too stigmatized to
be associated with. After all, African Americans were already the targets of racism,
discrimination, and violence. Why associate with an organization that would place another target on your
back. Therefore, along with plain racism which was a formidable obstacle to class unity,
both communism and socialism carried the stigma of being considered un-American, and those
are the primary limitations of both approaches. Ethnic and racial backlash as well as
Xenaphobia in the United States after World War I embodied by the Ku Klux Klan, the Palmer Raids and
the Sacco and Vanzetti trial had clearly identified socialism and communism as
“un-American.” Just as integration and black nationalism have inherent built-in approaches that
are in conflict with one another, it’s easy to see the built-in conflict that communism
and socialism have with the NAACP which is an integrationist oriented organization.
That is, how can an organization whose focus is integration with America possibly associate
with a group or party that is considered un-American? Also, as was the case with the NAACP and
Booker T. Washington, the conflict between the NAACP and the Communist Party was openly
hostile and, at times, ugly. It’s also a conflict that ultimately played a large role in
sowing dissension within the NAACP itself. Communist agitators held protests, marches,
and dove headlong in the fiercest battlegrounds. In 1931, the Communist Party began
organizing black and white sharecroppers in Camp Hill, Alabama. The potential black and white
union provoked a violent response in this “Jim Crow” stronghold of the deep South. On the
night of July 15, Tallapoosa County sheriff Kyle Young and deputized vigilantes who had
been tipped off by an informant raided the meeting house of the organizers, beating men and
women indiscriminately. Police reinforcements murdered the union organizer, and four black
sharecroppers who had fled into the woods were lynched. The reaction of the NAACP leadership is
somewhat reminiscent of Booker T. Washington’s initial response to the NAACP. The NAACP
denounced the Communist Party for recklessly putting African American lives at risk by
agitating and organizing in the most hostile settings. But WEB Du Bois wrote an article in The
Crisis which, while critical of the goals of the Communist Party, praised their sincerity
and their willingness to put themselves on the line on behalf of poor African Americans.
That was the beginning of the end of Du Bois’s involvement with the NAACP. He was soon
after forced to resign from his position as editor of The Crisis, and, as tensions
mounted, he left the organization entirely. Likewise, the goals of the Communist Party
and the socialists were inherently in conflict with those of black nationalists like
Marcus Garvey. Garvey rejected class unity in favor of racial unity. Class unity between
blacks and poor whites would never work because he believed that racial prejudice was
congenital and could never be purged from whites. So the central inherent conflict between the
two was on of class unity versus racial unity. While Marcus Garvey sought a pan-African
approach — a viewpoint which placed blacks in the United States in common cause with
blacks throughout the world and on the continent of Africa — the communists sought a
broader international coalition not confined by race or pan-Africanism. Once
again, there was open hostility between the organizations and it often got ugly.
A. Philip Randolph referred to Marcus Garvey as “the supreme Negro Jamaican Jackass,”
an “unquestioned fool and ignoramus,” and he launched a campaign “to drive Garvey and
Garveyism in all its sinister viciousness from the American soil.” Cyril Briggs’s open hostility and
attacks against Marcus Garvey ultimately provided the ammunition that the United States
government used to marginalize and ultimately convict Garvey on charges of mail fraud,
which led to his exile from the United States. For his part, Marcus Garvey relentlessly
attacked both the Communists and the NAACP, calling WEB Du Bois a “lazy, dependent
mulatto.î Ironically, his attacks against the NAACP mirrored those of the Communist Party.
Noting the class bias, and the NAACP’s apparent lack of concern for poor blacks, he referred
to the NAACP as the National Association For The Advancement Of Certain People. For
example, the NAACP was quick to distance itself from the case of the Scottsboro 9 — 9
vagrant, unemployed black hobos who had been accused of raping two white women. Two decades later,
a 15-year-old named Claudette Colvin was arrested in Montgomery Alabama for refusing to
give up her seat to a white man. But the NAACP ultimately dropped her like a hot potato
because of her subsequent pregnancy and the prospect of putting an unwed teen mother at the center
of the case that could potentially gain national attention. Ultimately, they calculated
that NAACP secretary, Rosa Parks would be better suited as a national symbol against
segregation and initiated the Montgomery Bus Boycott after her arrest a few months later in 1955.
The Communist Party was not nearly so skittish, in fact, as we’ll see, they welcomed the
opportunity to build alliances with poor and working-class African-Americans.
That’s all for this episode. You can see everything you’ve seen here as well as the entire
archive of episodes at my website www.africanelements.org. You can also join the discussion on our
Facebook Group African Elements. I’m Darius Spearman. Thank you for watching.

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