[On Sunday evening, January 24th, more than 3,000 people crammed New York City's Carnegie Hall to participate in a Salute to A. Philip Randolph and pay tribute to his long struggle for justice and equality (thousands more were turned away at the door due to over-crowding). Randolph concluded the event with the following call for a fundamental shift in strategy from litigation to direct-action. Just eight days later, four North Carolina A&T students sat-in at a Woolworth's lunch counter in Greensboro NC — initiating a wave of student sit-ins across the South, and decade of nation-wide mass direct-action.]
This is a period of grave crises. It is also a period of opportunity and danger. There is opportunity to win the fight for civil rights. There is danger we may lose it. Whether we win or lose will depend upon the unity of Negroes with other forces committed to civil rights, such as labor, the church, youth groups and liberals.
Some of the leaders of the major political parties are already revealed as evasive and devoid of sincerity on civil rights issues. At this time, when each party needs and wants the Negro vote, their intention is clear — to satisfy none of the burning demands of the Negro people. Their design is to give nothing of meaning but to solicit support, hoping that our confusion or irresolution will find us casting our votes for them in exchange for a trivial gain or empty promises.
[1960 was a presidential election year. Kennedy, Johnson, Symington, Humphrey, and Stevenson were the major contenders for the Democratic nomination. To northern audiences they publicly expressed support for Black civil rights, but in the South they carefully avoided offending white southerners. And behind the scenes they maneuvered for convention delegates by cutting deals with Dixiecrat leaders.]Apparently, they hope that the promise to extend the Civil Rights Commission for two additional years is sufficient to win us despite their refusal to implement the recommendations of the very Civil Rights Commission whose life is to be extended.
They have demonstrated that when a conservative body of bipartisan members produces a practical proposal such as Federal registrars in the South to guarantee registration and voting they will ignore and even seek to discredit the proposal; and yet they expect us to regard the maintenance of the Commission as a concession. To illustrate the absurdity another way — when we are hungry, they keep the bread and offer us the wrapper.
As another example of political indifference and unconcern we have the hideous experience of a brutal murder in Mississippi, with the killers identified, their premeditation and conspiracy known in full detail, but neither state nor Federal governments able even to punish them for disorderly conduct. An utter and complete breakdown of law disgraces the nation, terrorizes its citizens and neither party has yet proposed that a Federal anti-lynch law be enacted.
[The above is a reference to the lynching of Mack Parker the previous April. With the connivance of local law enforcement, a mob dragged Parker from the county jail in Poplarville, Mississippi, murdered him on the Pearl River bridge just outside of Bogalusa, Louisiana, and dropped his body into the water. Though the identities of the killers were common knowledge throughout the region, no indictments were ever made in the case. A sheriffs deputy was a prime suspect and in the next election he was elected Sheriff of Pearl River County.]
The list could be extended. The heart of civil rights legislation, Title III, still remains in a Congressional pigeon hole.
[See Civil Rights Act of 1960 for an explanation of Title III.]
An FEPC law to extend economic opportunity and security for Negroes is still another forgotten bill.
Why have reactionary forces been able to frustrate, delay and obstruct not only these urgently needed laws but the enforcement of the Supreme Court decisions of 1954 as well?
The answer is simple.
This tragic condition proceeds from the fact that the leaders of nations do not act from motives of pure justice. Instead, they seek to maintain a peaceful balance amongst the contending forces that comprise the nation. No group knows this better than Southern reactionaries and their Northern allies. They have always employed the technique of creating confusion and diversions, with the object of damaging the peaceful pursuit of government and the social order. Their object is to compel the liberal forces to submit if they want a peaceful and quiet community. Tragically, liberal forces have submitted in their quest for an end to disruption.
The pattern of reaction since Reconstruction days has been based on these factors:
To state the condition suggests its solution. Our task is to find the nonviolent ways to bring direct and powerful pressure to bear upon government, offsetting and countering the pressures of reaction.
We cannot permit the nation to seek a false social serenity by sacrificing the human rights and needs of millions of its citizens. We must make it clear that we will not permit such a false peace to exist but will create and conduct a wide variety of actions constantly, so that social calm will not prevail until our demands have been met.
We must make it clear that if reaction can win by creating discord in the community, peace cannot be found by abandoning our rights to reaction because we shall not be quiet, polite, or content until justice is firmly in our hands.
We must make it clear that democracy cannot be mutilated while we sit by passively, silently, and submissively.
To this end, I intend to call for marches on the political conventions of both major parties, Democratic and Republican. The Negro people must stand up before these conventions and say to the nation and the world, "We want to be free now."
The concrete demands and just grievances of the Negro people presented as they march before these conventions is a weapon that will circle the globe as a moral missile.
Such a project, the first of its kind in American political history, will mobilize the power and resistance within the people and will demonstrate that the Negro is aware that he holds the balance of power in many key states. It will give the parties and candidates clear warning that we intend to use our ballots to support only those forces that will take a firm and unequivocal stand for justice now.
Our marching will furnish clear warning that if rash promises are not kept we will march again and again to state capitals and to the nation's capital.
We are challenged to demonstrate that when we are contemptuously brushed aside we will retaliate. We are challenged to prove that when political leaders and parties yield to reactionary pressures we, too, have the will, the determination, and the capacity to inflict penalties politically. We are challenged to prove that Negro interests cannot be dismissed or ignored with impunity.
We can meet these challenges by marching at the conventions to declare to the nation and the world that we shall never, never relax our pressure until full freedom is won.
Copyright © A. Phillip Randolph. 1960.