. . . Randolph on January 15, 1941,
elevated the struggle against discrimination in the national defense
industry and against segregation in the armed services to a new,
unprecedented level with the following press statement:
. . . only power can effect the enforcement
and adoption of a given policy, however meritorious it may be. The
virtue and rightness of a cause are not alone the condition and
cause of its acceptance. Power and pressure are at the foundation of
the march of social justice and reform . . . power and pressure do
not reside in the few, and intelligentsia, they lie in and flow from
the masses. Power does not even rest with the masses as such. Power
is the active principle of only the organized masses, the masses
united for a definite purpose. Hence, Negro America must bring its
power and pressure to bear upon the agencies and representatives of
the Federal Government to exact their rights in National Defense
employment and the armed forces of the country. . . I suggest that
TEN THOUSAND Negroes march on Washington, D.C. . . . with the
slogan: WE LOYAL NEGRO AMERICAN CITIZENS DEMAN D THE RIGHT TO WORK
AND FIGHT FOR OUR COUNTRY. . . . we seek the right to play our part
in advancing the cause of national defense and national unity. But
certainly there can be no national unity where one tenth of the
population are denied their basis rights as American citizens. . . .
One thing is certain and that is if Negroes are going to get
anything out of this national defense, which will cost the nation 30
to 40 billions of dollars that we Negroes must help pay in taxes as
property owners and workers and consumers, WE MUST FIGHT FOR IT AND
FIGHT FOR IT WITH GLOVES OFF.
Introduction to The Papers of Clarence Mitchell Jr., Volume III
A. Philip Randolph leads protest against a Jim Crow Army outside the
Democratic National Committee.
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.”
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
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.
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
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.
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.
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:
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
. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .
. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .
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 Times gave the confrontation page one treatment,
Newsweek magazine gave it a two-page spread, other publications
like PM magazine 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,