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Albert Goldman

Anti-Lynch Bill

A Speech I Did Not Deliver In The United States Senate

(February 1938)

From Socialist Appeal, Vol. II No. 8, 19 February 1938, p. 4.
Transcribed & marked up by Einde O’Callaghan for ETOL.

Gentlemen: Some of you feel that you have already done your duty, that is, you have done what appears to you to be politically advisable. Thirty-seven of you who are in favor of the anti-lynching bill voted to close debate and proceed to a vote. You think that you have thereby cleared your skirts and can go back to your Negro constituents with the claim that you are a friend of the Negro people. What else could anyone expect from you? Did you not vote in favor of closing debate and thus bring the bill to a vote, something which the two dozen Southern senators refuse to permit by their filibuster? And now there is no use continuing the attempt to pass the bill because the filibuster will prevent this august body from considering other important measures!

Undoubtedly you will succeed in convincing some of the Negro people that you were sincere in your efforts to pass the Wagner-Van Nuys anti-lynching bill. But I assure you many white and Negro workers will see through the hypocrisy which is glaringly evident in the bill itself and in the attitude of the large bloc of senators supporting the bill for political reasons.

Hypocrisy of Northern Democrats

I am afraid that I must agree with the reactionary, white-chauvinistic Senators from the South that the bill was introduced with the sole purpose of enabling the Northern Democrats to make sure of the Negro vote. It is common knowledge that many of the Senators from the Northern States, where many Negro voters reside, are actually against the bill but dare not come out openly in opposition to it. The purpose of the bill is essentially to fool the Negro voters. As a matter of fact, all of you are constantly occupied with the task of fooling not only the Negro people but all the people. If you and your like did not succeed in deceiving the wide masses do you think they would tolerate the capitalist system for one moment? Do you think the white and Negro workers would permit themselves to be exploited, would suffer hunger and misery, would consent to be cannon fodder in capitalist wars if they were not deceived by the capitalist politicians, press, school and church?

By the way, let me call your attention to the greatest hypocrite of all of you, the man who sits in the White House, President Roosevelt. This great friend of the people, the Negro people included, I presume, is as silent as a sphynx. Not a word has he uttered in favor of the bill, not a sentence has he written urging his supporters to vote for the bill. This shrewd politician hopes to make the Negroes think that he favors the bill and at the same time avoid antagonizing the Southern Democrats by actually coming out in its favor. He will certainly be happy if the bill never passes so that he will not be forced to sign or veto it.

Weakness of Bill

Let us consider the provisions of the bill and see whether it will bring about the desired effect of stopping the inhuman lynchings of innocent Negroes? In the first place, it should be known that the bill does not attempt to punish any leader or member of a lynching mob. If it is possible under present conditions to stop lynching, it can be done only by a vigorous prosecution for murder of the leaders and members of a lynching mob and not by the method proposed in this bill.

The Wagner bill threatens to penalize the official in charge of any prisoner who is lynched or the governmental subdivision where the lynching occurs. Before any official can be successfully prosecuted it will have to be proved that he wilfully neglected to use all diligent efforts to prevent the lynching. I hope that no one is foolish enough to believe that a prosecutor, assuming even that he is interested in obtaining a conviction, will have an easy task before a jury in the South. The burden of proof, of course, will be on the prosecution and that practically guarantees an acquittal. In the case of a governmental subdivision, which under the proposed law will be liable to the party injured or to his relatives in the sum of from two thousand to ten thousand dollars, the burden of proving that the official used diligence is on the government. Even there it will not be so difficult to prove that the officer did his best to prevent the lynching and was overwhelmed by superior force.

In some states there is a law which makes a governmental subdivision absolutely liable for all damage done to property in the course of a riot. Wagner could certainly have treated the Negroes at least in the same way, that is, the bill could have provided absolute liability on the part of any governmental subdivision where a lynching occurs. But property is more sacred than Negroes.

Motive of Southern Senators

Why are the Southern Senators so bitterly opposed to a bill; the effectiveness of which can be questioned even for the purpose it is intended to serve? Should the bill pass, white masters will continue to have their properties; they will continue to exploit both Negro and white workers; the share-cropper will continue to live on the brink of starvation; and the Negroes will still be spat upon, reviled and terrorized. The Northern States have shown that lynching can be limited to revolutionary workers, as in the case of Frank Little, or that it can be done with all the legal forms, as in the case of Sacco and Vanzetti, without in the least disturbing the well-being of the capitalist class.

The arrogance of the ruling whites in the South knows no bounds. They will not permit any encroachment upon their right to do as they please with their “niggers.” And then there is a possibility that the Negroes, even though they may be mistaken, will think that there is some power to protect them against the brutality of the white bosses and this thought might cause them to lift up their heads. The Senatorial representatives of the white ruling class of the South are anxious to prevent the slightest concession to the people who created all the wealth of the South.

How Lynching Will End

It is necessary that the Negro workers clearly understand the nature of this anti-lynching bill and the motives of those who have introduced it and support it, as well as those who are opposed to it. The Democrats who allegedly support it, do so because they see a chance to assure themselves pf a huge number of Negro votes. The Senators who oppose it are unwilling to yield an inch of their right to keep the Negro in utter degradation.

The Negro workers must understand that even if the bill is passed (and it has very little chance of passing) it is doubtful whether it will have any effect upon lynchings. I shall vote for the bill because, as weak as it is, it might conceivably have some slight effect in saving the life of a Negro. The Socialist Workers’ Party states clearly that a far more effective method than this bill to stop lynchings in the South is for the Negro and white workers to organize and shake their united fist in the face of the white masters. Only a united struggle of white and colored workers will improve the horrible conditions of the working class of the South. Do not rely upon the charitable feelings of the masters; do not depend upon the good will of the Northern Democrats. Rely only upon your united strength.

Against Capitalism

And it is not enough to struggle against lynching alone. There is very little choice between being lynched and starving to death. Lynching is only one of the results of the conditions under which both Negroes and white workers are compelled to live. So long as the white capitalists are permitted to rule this country, so long will there be unemployment, war, terror, starvation, lynching.

Not an anti-lynching bill will do away with lynching, but a bill introduced by a workers’ government abolishing the right of the white ruling class to own the wealth of this country and exploit the workers of all races and creeds. For the Negroes to gain complete economic, political and social equality, and for the white and Negro workers to live as brothers free from the exploitation of capitalists, it is, necessary to create a workers’ government.

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