Excerpt VIII (eight) from my new book “RACISM and HATE: an AMERICAN REALITY” is truly a treasure and is worth price of admission alone. It’s a rare piece of work from W.E.B Dubois. It was first printed in the 1947, November edition of the “CRISIS MAGAZINE”. I use it with their granted permission.
During that period the NAACP was in a desperate struggle for equal rights and W.E.B. Dubois put together a petition to present to the newly formed United Nations. It sought to make a claim for social justice for Americans of African descent from this newly constructed body of nations who had a newly formed civil rights division that was dealing with the injustices that had just occurred to the Jews in Nazi Germany.
The petition captured the plight of Americans of African descent under the” Separate but Equal laws “that was in play at that time. I believe it is the best supporting document that exists for making the case for financial reparation for injuries suffered under all of the “Jim Crow laws” that “Plessey” held in place. Laws that were set aside in the 1954 case “Brown v Board of Education.” Which, I make the argument, entitled all Americans of African descent alive in 1954 and injured by the” Jim Crow laws,” financial reparations. What happened was the “Plessey” decision in 1896 codified all of the “Separate but Equal Laws” into federal law, taking away the 14 Th amendment protections for all Americans of African descent. This removal of 14th amendment protection played out throughout the society including the work place causing untold economic injury. The “Brown” decision in 1954 set aside all of the “Jim Crow Laws” that “Plessey” held in place. The” Civil” due process part of the “Brown” decision, the so-called school integration part, was satisfied by declaring that the “Separate but Equal laws was inherently Un-Equal” and set them aside at least in education. The other part of the due process in the case,” financial reparations,” was never acted on, in part, because of the threat of “racial terrorism”. Thurgood Marshall and his legal team never petition the “Brown” court for “financial reparations “ because of that threat. I believe those injured by “Plessey” still have a right today to petition the United States government for those reparations. There is no statute of limitation on genocide, which is what the ” separate but equal laws” amounted to.
I think a good place to start on this would be to go to the Atty. Gen. of the United States and suggest to him that the budget that Congressman Paul Ryan is putting together calling for almost $2.5 trillion to be taken from poor people, people who are poor mainly because of the” separate but equal laws” that the State placed on them. In 1954 I believe the proper number for financial reparations for over 15 million Americans of African descent would have been probably $2.5 trillion. So we should be after the Atty. Gen. in this administration to petition the court for those financial reparations owed.
What Congressman Paul Ryan, an officer of the State, is proposing is to take away the safety net from those who need the safety net because of the former discriminatory laws of the State. How ironic is that?
W.E.B. Du Bois
(1947 petition to the United Nation)
[There were in the United States of America, 1940, 12,865,518
native-born citizens, something less than a tenth of the nation, who
forms largely a segregated caste, with restricted legal rights, and many
illegal disabilities. They are descendants of Africans brought to America
during the sixteenth, seventeenth, eightieth and nineteenth centuries and
reduced to slave labor. This group has no complete biological unity, but
varies in color from white to black, and comprises a great variety of physical
characteristics, since many are the offspring of white European-Americans as
well as of Africans and American Indians. There are a large number of white
Americans who also descend from Negroes but who are not counted in the
color group nor subjected to the caste restrictions because the preponderance of
white blood conceals their descent.
The so-called American Negro group, therefore, while it is in no sense
absolutely set off physically from its fellow Americans, has nevertheless a
strong, hereditary cultural unity, born of slavery, of common suffering,
prolonged prescription and curtailment of political and civil rights; and
especially because of economic and social disabilities. Largely from this fact,
have arisen their cultural gifts to America—their rhythm, music and folk—
song; their religious faith and customs; their contribution to American art
and literature; their defense of their country in every war, on land, sea and
in the air; and especially the hard, continuous toil upon which the prosperity
and wealth of this continent has largely been built.
The group has long been internally divided by dilemma as to whether
its striving upward should be aimed at strengthening its inner cultural and
group bonds, both for intrinsic progress and for offensive power against
caste; or whether it should seek escape wherever and however possible into
the surrounding American culture. Decision in this matter has been largely
determined by our compulsion rather than inner plan; for prolonged policies
of segregation and discrimination have involuntarily welded the mass almost
into a nation within a nation with its own schools, churches, hospitals,
newspapers and many business enterprises.
The result has been to make American Negroes to a wide extent,
provincial, introvert, self-conscious and narrowly race-loyal; but it has also
inspired them to frantic and often successful effort to achieve, to deserve, to
show the world their capacity to share modern civilization. As a result there
is almost no area of American civilization in which the Negro has not made
creditable showing in the face of all his handicaps.
If, however, the effect of the color caste system on the North American
Negro has been both good and bad, its effect on white America has been
disastrous. It has repeatedly led the greatest modern attempt at democratic
government to deny its political ideals, to falsify its philanthropic assertions
and to make its religion to a great extent hypocritical. A nation which boldly
declared “That all men are created equal,” proceeded to build its economy
on chattel slavery; masters, who declared race—mixture impossible sold their
own children’s into slavery and left a mulatto progeny, which neither law
nor science can today disentangle; churches which excused slavery as calling
the heathen to GOD refused to recognize the freedom of converts or admit
them to equal communion. Sectional strife over the profits of slave labor, and
conscientious revolt against making human beings real estate led to bloody
civil war, and to a partial emancipation of slaves, which nevertheless, even
to this day is not complete. Poverty, ignorance, disease and crime have been
forced on these unfortunate victims of greed to an extent far beyond any
social necessity; and a great nation, which today ought to be in the forefront
of the march toward peace and democracy, finds itself continuously making
common cause with race-hate, prejudiced exploitation and oppression of the
common man. Its high and noble words are turned against it, because they
are contradicted in every syllable by the treatment of the American Negro for
three hundred and twenty-eight years.
Slavery in America is a strange and contradictory story. It cannot be
regarded as mainly either a theoretical problem of morals or a scientific
problem of race. From either of these points of view, the rise of slavery in
America is simply inexplicable. Looking at the facts, frankly, slavery evidently
was a matter of economics, a question of income and labor, rather than a
problem of right and wrong, or of the physical differences in men. Once
slavery began to be the source of vast income for men and nations, there
followed a frantic search for moral and racial justifications. Such excuses
were found and men did not inquire too carefully into either their logic or
The twenty Negroes brought to Virginia in 1619 were not the first who
had landed on this continent. For a century, small numbers of Negroes had
been arriving as servants, as laborers, as free adventures. The Southwestern
part of the present United States, was first traversed by four explorers of
whom one was an African Negro. Negroes accompanied early explorers like
D’Ayllon and Menendez in the southwestern United States. But just as
the earlier black visitors to the West Indies were servants and adventurers
and then later began to appear as laborers on the sugar plantations, so in
Virginia, these imported black laborers in 1619 and after came to be wanted
for the raising of tobacco which was the money crop.
In the minds of the early planters, there was no distinction as to labor
whether it was white or black; in law there was at first no discrimination.
But as imported white labor became scarcer and more protected by law, it
became less profitable than Negro labor which flooded the markets because of
European slave traders, internal strife in Africa; and because in America the
Negroes were increasingly stripped of legal defense. For these reasons America
became a land of black slavery, and there arose first, the fabulously rich sugar
empire, then the cotton Kingdom, and finally colonial imperialism.
Then came the inevitable fight between free labor and democracy on
the one hand and slave labor with its huge profits on the other. Black slaves
were the spearhead of this fight. They were the first in America to stage the
“sit-down” strike, to slow up and sabotage the work of the plantation. They
revolted time after time, and no matter what recorded history may say, the
enacted laws against slave revolt are unanswerable testimony as to what these
revolts meant all over America.
The slaves themselves especially imperiled the whole slave system by
escape from slavery. It was the fugitive slave more than the slave revolt, which
finally threatened investment and income; and the organization for helping
fugitive slaves through Free Northern Negroes and their white friends, in the
guise of an underground movement, was of tremendous influence.
Finally it was the Negro soldier as a co-fighter with the whites for
independence from the British economic empire which began emancipation.
The British bid for his help and the colonials against their first impulse had
to bid in return and virtually to promise the Negro soldier freedom after the
Revolutionary War. It was for the protection of American Negro sailors as
well as white that the war of 1812 was precipitated and, after independence
from England was accomplished, freedom for the black laboring class, and
enfranchisement for whites and blacks was in sight.
In the meantime, however, white labor had continued to regard the
United States as a place of refuge; as a place for free land; for continuous
employment and high wage; for freedom of thought and faith. It was here,
however, that employers intervened; not because of any moral obliquity, but
because the Industrial Revolution, based upon the crops raised by slave labor
in the Caribbean and in the southern United States, was made possible
by world trade and a new astonishing technique and finally was made
triumphant by a vast transportation of slave labor through the British slave
trade in the 18th and early 19th centuries.
The new mass of slaves became competitors of white labor and drove
white labor for refuge into the arms of employers whose interests were
founded on slave labor. The doctrine of race inferiority was used to convince
white labor that they had the right to be free and to vote, while the Negroes
must be slaves or depress the wage of whites; western free soil became
additional lure and compensation if it could be restricted to free labor.
On the other hand the fight of the slave-holders against democracy
increased with the spread of the wealth and power of the Cotton Kingdom.
Through political power based on slaves they became the dominant political
force in the United States; they were successful in expanding into Mexico
and tried to penetrate the Caribbean. Finally they demanded for slavery a
part of the free soul of the West, and because of this last excessive and in fact
impossible effort, a Civil War to preserve and extend slavery ensued.
This fight for slave labor was echoed in the law. The free Negro
was systematically discouraged, disfranchised and reduce to serfdom. He
became by law the easy victim of the kidnapper and liable to treatment as
a fugitive slave. The Church, influenced by wealth and respectability, was
predominantly on the side of the slave owner and effort was made to make
the degradation of the Negro, as a race, final by Supreme Court decision.
But from the beginning, the outcome of the Civil War was inevitable
and this not mainly on account of the predominant wealth and power of the
North; it was because of the clear fact that the Southern slave economy was
built on black labor. If at any time the slaves or any large part of them, as
workers ceased to support the South; and if even more decisively, as fighters
they joined the North, there was no way in the world for the South to win.
Just as soon then as slaves became spies for the invading Northern armies;
laborers for their camps and fortifications, and finally produced 200,000
trained and efficient soldiers with arms in their hands, and with the
possibility of a million more, the fate of the slave South was sealed.
Victory, however, brought dilemma; if victory meant full economic
freedom for labor in the South, white and black, if it meant land and
education, and eventually votes, then the slave empire was doomed, and
profits of Northern industry built on the Southern slave foundation will
also be seriously curtailed. Northern industry had a stake in the Cotton
Kingdom and in cheap slave labor that supported it. It had expanded for
war industries during the fighting, was encouraged by government subsidy
and eventually was protected by a huge tariff rampart. When war profits
declined there was still prospect of tremendous post war profits of cotton and
other products of Southern agriculture. Therefore, what the North wanted
was not freedom and higher wage for black labor, but its control under such
forms of law as would keep it cheap; and also “stop” its open competition
with Northern labor. The moral protest of abolitionists must be appeased,
but profitable industry was determined to control wages and government.
The result was an attempt at Reconstruction in which black labor
established schools; tried to divide up the land and put a new social
legislation in force. On the other hand, the power of Southern land owners
soon joined with Northern industry to disfranchise the Negro; keep him
from access to free land or to capital and to build up the present caste system
for blacks founded on color discrimination, peonage, intimidation and
It is this fact that underlies many of the contradictions in the social and
political development of the United States since the Civil War. Despite our
resources and our miraculous technique; despite comparatively high wages
paid many of our workers and their consequent high standard of living, we
are nevertheless ruled by wealth, monopoly, and big business organization to
an astounding degree. Our railway transportation is built upon monumental
economic injustice both to passengers, shippers and to different sections of the
land. The monopoly of land and natural resources throughout the United
States both in cities and in farming districts is a disgraceful aftermath to the
vast land heritage with which this nation started.
In 1876 the democratic process of government was crippled throughout
the whole nation. This came about, not simply through the disfranchisement
of Negroes, but through the fact that the political power of the disfranchised
Negroes and of a large number of equally disfranchised whites was preserved
as the basis of political power, but the wielding of that power was left in the
hands and under the control of the successors to the planter dynasty in the
Let us examine these facts more carefully. The United States has always
professed to be a Democracy. She has never wholly attained her ideal, but
slowly she has approached it. The privilege of voting has in time been
widened by abolishing limitations of birth, religion and lack of property.
After the Civil War, which abolished slavery, the nation, in gratitude to
black soldiers and laborers, who helped win that war, sought to admit to the
suffrage all persons without distinction of “race, color or previous condition of
servitude.” They were warned by the great leaders of abolition, like Sumner,
Stevens and Douglass, that this could only be effective if the Freedmen were
given schools, land and some minimum of capital. A Freedmen’s Bureau to
furnish these prerequisites to effective citizenship was planned and put into
partial operation. But Congress and the nation, weary of the costs of war
and eager to get back to profitable industry, refused the necessary funds. The
effort died, but in order to restore friendly civil government in the South
the enfranchised Freedmen, seventy-five percent illiterate, without land
or tools was thrown into competitive industry with a ballot in his hands.
By herculean effort, helped by philanthropy and his own hard work, the
Negro built a school system, bought land and cooperated in starting a new
economic order in the South. In a generation he had reduced his illiteracy by
half and had become a wage-earning laborer and share-cropper. He still was
handicapped by poverty, disease and crime, but nevertheless the rise of the
American Negro from slavery in 1860 to freedom in 1880, has few parallels
in modern history.
However, opposition to any democracy, which included the Negro race
on any terms was so strong in the former slave-holding South, and found so
much sympathy in large parts of the rest of the nation, that despite notable
improvement in the condition of the Negro by every standard of social
measurement, the effort to deprive Negroes of the right to vote succeeded. At
first he was driven from the polls in the South by mobs and violence; and
then he was openly cheated; finally by a “Gentleman’s agreement” with the
North, the Negro was disfranchised in the South by a series of laws, methods
of administration, court decisions and general public policy, so that today
three-fourths of the Negro population of the nation is deprived of the right to
vote by open and declared policy.
Most persons seem to regard this as simply unfortunate for Negroes, as
depriving a modern working class of the minimum rights for self-protection
and opportunity for progress. This is true, as has been shown in poor
educational opportunities, discrimination in work, health protection,
and in the courts. But the situation is far more serious than this: the
disfranchisement of the American Negro makes the functioning of all
democracy in the nation difficult; and as democracy fails to function in the
leading democracy in the world, it fails in the world . . . .
This paradox and contradiction enters into our actions, thoughts and
plans. After the First World War, we were alienated from the proposed
League of Nations because of sympathy for imperialism. And because of race
antipathy to Japan, and because we objected to the compulsory protection of
minorities in Europe, which might lead to equality of races and nations; our
tendency was toward isolation until we saw a chance to make inflated profits
from the want which came upon the world. This effort of America to make
profit out of the disaster in Europe was one of the causes of the depression
of the thirties . . . . to similar demands upon the United States. We joined
Great Britain in determined refusal to recognize equality of races and nations; our tendency was toward isolation until we saw a chance to make inflated profits from the want which came upon the world. This effort of America to make profit out of the disaster in Europe was one of the causes depression of the thirties.
But today the paradox again looms after the Second World War. We
have recrudescence of race hate and caste restrictions in the United States and
of these dangerous tendencies not simply for the United States itself but for
all nations. When will nations learn that their enemies are quite as often
within their own country as without? It is not Russia that threatens the
United States so much as Mississippi; not Stalin, and Molotov but Bilbo and
Rankin; internal injustice done to one’s brothers is far more dangerous than
the aggression of strangers from abroad.
Finally, it must be stressed that the discrimination of which we complain
is not simply discrimination against poverty and ignorance, which the world
by long custom is used to see: the discrimination practiced in the United
States is practiced against American Negroes in spite of wealth, training and
character. One of the contributors of this statement happens to be a white
man. But the other three and the editor himself are subject to “jim-crow”
laws, to denial of the right to vote, to unequal chance to earn a living; of
the right to enter many places of public entertainment supported by their
taxes. In other words our complaint is mainly against a discrimination
based mainly on color of skin, and it is this that we denounce as not only
indefensible but barbaric.]
“The author, Jimmy C. Cameron, wishes to thank the Crisis Publishing
Co.,Inc.,the publisher of the magazine of the National Association for the
Advancement of Colored People, for the use of this material first published in
the December 1947 issue of Crisis Magazine.”
join the conversation on “Economic Inequality” hopefully you will find some food for thought and reflection in “RACISM and HATE:an AMERICAN REALITY”