Civil Rights in'54 Depends on the Fight Against McCarthyism
by Paul Robeson

Originally published in Freedom, November 1953

The placing of the issue of segregation in education before the Supreme Court represents a magnificent stride forward in the long battle of Negro Americans for full equality. It seems to me difficult to speculate as to how the Court will decide.

Certainly if the Court acts in accordance with the demands of democracy and the needs of the whole Southern people — colored and white — it will strike down segregation unconditionally and immediately.

Who will say that the Southern people, who maintained unsegregated school systems during the Reconstruction period, will not support them in 1951? In the final analysis the people — not the nine justices — are the court of last resort.

However, the still-powerful sections of the Dixiecrats are girding themselves for final struggle. The [James] Byrnes [SC] and [Herman] Talmadges [GA], in fact the Council of Southern Governors, seem to me to be heading toward a major battle on the whole front of our right to first-class citizenship, somewhat in the tradition of Henry Clay's and his stubborn defense of the theory of "states' rights." The fight will still go on, especially in the South, where the bulk of our people live.

Whether civil rights bills will be passed in the coming session of Congress will depend not on the oft-heralded "good intentions" of Eisenhower, or the election-year promises of Congressmen, but on the degree to which the Negro people, labor, the poor farm population, and all lovers of democracy make an earnest, united and irresistible demand.

We must not forget that the whole civil rights program — for voting rights in the South, for the right of our people to work and to full opportunities for advancement through adequate federal fair employment practices legislation, for the right to full protection of our very lives in states like Florida, the scene of the Moore lynch-murders — this program was scuttled by the Eisenhower administration in the President's successful bid for Southern support. So our demands must not be narrowed, but broadened to include the whole of the Negro people in all-inclusive immediate demands for full citizenship.

And all of our demands will be most effective when they merge with the battle against the book-burning, thought control, "loyalty" purges, "spy" scares and character defamation which the Democrats started and the Republicans are carrying on to ominous lengths.

Let us remember that at one time in our national life the victims of hysteria were Jefferson and his colleagues, friends of the new revolutionary French republic of 1789. At another, the sufferers were Frederick Douglass, Harriet Tubman, William Lloyd Garrison, John Brown, fighters for our freedom. They happened to be abolitionists. Closer in time is 1920: the persecuted were the Socialists — men like Eugene Debs and Altgeld.

Proud inheritors of these magnificent traditions are men and women like Benjamin Davis of Georgia, James Jackson, Henry Winston, Claudia Jones, Elizabeth Gurley Flynn, Eugene Dennis, Pettis Perry and their colleagues. Our history — and especially the history of our people — teaches us that all liberties must be protected or there are none.

So today there is the overriding necessity to preserve our democratic heritage from the wholesale attacks of McCarthyism. McCarthyism is an American brand of fascism. If this administration, which is largely a political vehicle for the giant corporations and entrenched greed, embraces McCarthy fully as it seems prone to do, then the outlook for the Negro people, labor, the foreign born and other minorities will be gloomy indeed.

Copyright © Paul Robeson, 1953.

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