The Dark Side of Defense
Despite the sorry record of British exploitation of those with darker skins and weaker weapons, the American Negroes have been loyal supporters of our aid-to-England program. But, remembering a disgraceful record of discrimination in the last war, Negro leaders have kept close watch on internal developments.
They have not had far to look for examples of unjustifiable Jim Crowism. The Navy, which refuses to permit colored men to rise above table help and valets (and which has made Annapolis so unpleasant for any Negro appointed that none have ever graduated), is chalked up as a hopeless outpost of feudalism by even the most optimistic colored leaders. The Army has shown a few glimmers of mildly progressive intelligence. A token air force of 100 pilots is being organized at Tuskegee as an answer to the charge that Negroes are admitted only to the infantry. But the military branch of a democracy deserves no credit for ignoring the recommendation of physiologists that American Negroes will make the finest tank drivers in the world because of their ability to withstand jolting and heat. There has also been an over-zealous segregation of white and black which adds nothing to the efficiency and detracts much from the morale of the armed forces. The Civil Service, too, needs an overhauling. A few strategically placed bigots have kept Negroes out of almost all civil positions with the government except custodial and service ones.
The standard reply to this last charge has been that Negroes lack training. Besides being only partly true, this statement has been linked into a vicious circle in defense industries. Firms maintain that they are unable to find trained Negroes at the same time that public defense training courses deny Negroes admittance because they can't place them. Thus, in Baltimore 1734 white workers were trained and placed while 100 colored workers were given training but not placed. In Harlem only 70 from a training course of 1400 got jobs. Especially notorious has been the discrimination by both management and A.F. of L. unions in the aircraft industry. Glenn L. Martin with a half billion dollars of defense orders hasn't a single Negro in 18,000 workers. Curtiss-Wright has disproved the familiar and flimsy excuses of other plants by employing a large number of Negroes and finding them more than satisfactory.
The tenth of our population which is colored has not taken all this governmental, military, naval, union, and private business discrimination lying down. So strong was feeling that last June President Roosevelt had to issue a prettily worded but ineffective executive order against racial discrimination in defense industries to forestall a well-planned "March to Washington of 100,000 Negroes." Hillman has had to ask large employers to stop importing labor and raiding neighboring firms after summarily rejecting Negro employment applications. No governmental official, however, has been sufficiently tough with the proto-fascist overlords, in and out of uniform, who persist in making worse a situation that can be solved only by greater understanding and tolerance.
It is vitally important that America's internal stresses be minimized. Undemocratic social patterns must not be thrust upon young men just rising above the bigotism of their parents what little ground has been gained must be kept. It is nonsense to refuse a man the right to make a shell or shoot a cannon because of his color when the very weapon is aimed at the same sort of in tolerance abroad.