Newspaper Page Text
By Elsa Bloch.
TWICE within a period of two weeks, the newspapers of the country have given the publicity of the first page to cases of southern Negroes, charged with crime, to whom state officials, "at great expense anil trouble," had given “protection” from the waiting mobs. On February 1, the newspapers re ported that Edward Harris, a Negro of Lexington, Kentucky, was to be brought into court on the charge of having “murdered a man and his two children, and assaulted the wife." The papers detailed elaborate plans being made by state officials to pro tect Harris from attack.” “Cavalry, machine gun squadrons, and a tank company” were to guard the court house to prevent mobs from breaking in and seizing the prisoner. The next day the papers told of the use of “tear-gas bombs to rout the mobs at Harris’ trial.” On February 3, screaming headlines announced that the jury in the Harris case, having “deliberated sixteen minutes,” brought in - verdict of “guilty” and a death sentence. From Georgetown, Delaware, a week later, came the news that “tear-gas bombs were used to rout the mob storming the trial of a Negro,” and that while this was going on the jury sentenced the "attacker of a twelve year-old girl” to death. WITHIN the sixty-one years that have passed since the close of the civil war, thousands of lynchings have taken place. These the newspapers have reported, briefly, and with more or less indifference. Only a few weeks ago. newspaper readers learned of a lynching party which had hit on the refinement of broadcasting by .radio the screams of its victim. This report aroused little comment in the capital ist press. And it has also happened that Negroes accused of crime have thru luck escaped lynching. And no headlines announced these events. BUT now suddenly, newspapers are filled with the “bravery” and “de termination” of state officials who “prevent lynchings or attacks on Ne groes brought to trial.” Why? Because there is pending in con gress a bill —the Dyer bill —which makes a gesture of putting upon the federal government the responsibility for punishment of lynching. All the exaggerated stories of how law-abid ing officials prevented the lynching of two Negroes, all the bloated reports of “protection from the mob” which a kind state has given to two of its colored citizens (while proceeding to sentence the same colored citizens to death in 16 minute trials) are nothing more than an attempt finally to kill the anti-lynching bill which has been in congress committees ever since 1921. WHAT was the character of the trial accorded the two Negroes Harris was arrested on one day; on the next he had been convict- d was on his way to the gallows. There was no long drawn-out trial, such is accorded wealthy men in ci*’*'* Chicago, there were no psychiatrists to prove the "insanity” < f i there were no witnesses for the de fense. No man of Harris' o\. a r . was allowed on the jury. Harris h a perfunctory trial, the jury “deliber ated” for sixteen minutes, and the sentence was death. SERVILE capitalist “Negro” news papers, altho they customarily protest against lynching, are silenced by this “trial." Intellectually chloro formed with the superstition of legal ism, some boot-licking Negro editors are overcome by the fact that the vic tims “had a trial.” Let us say openly what everybody with any intellectual courage knows to be true —that such a trial was another form of lynching. Except that the torture of the stake was lacking, there is no difference between such a trial and a lynching. No need to flinch because the Negro victim Is accused .of rape. The word “rape” is a means of preventing any defense. This will raise a howl of rage from those who are steeped in the systematized hysteria which is the The New Kind of Lynching ideology of this capitalist land. If a •Negro is accused of rape and you dare defend him —you are guilty of defend ed a rapist! Therefore if you want to hang an innocent man without a de fense, accuse him of rape, and nobody will dare defend him. This is glaring ly illustrated in the “trial” of Edward Harris. There were two charges against him: one of murder and one of rape. The prosecutor chose to give him his sixteen-minute “trial” on the charge of rape; there was no defense, and the mere utterance of the charge was assurance of conviction. Nor is there any reason under the circumstances to take seriously the statement that the black prisoner con fessed! Such confessions have exactly the value of the confessions that once were wrung from the victims of the church inquisition,—that is, precisely a little terrorizing, a piece of paper and a pencil. We know something of the way confessions are obtained from terrorized victims. The newspapers do not suggest what would have happened to the two Ne groes in question had they—by some miracle —been proved innocent. We know that they would have been hang ed anyway. But there are no miracles, and there was not the slightest chance of anything but death for the Negro n this "trial.” Therefore it was not x trial, but a lynching. "The specta ors in the courtroom glowered at the drinking defendant,” commented thi Chicago Tribune in its account of Har ris’ trial. What juror would have dared to hold out against the evidence of such flaming race-hatred? WHAT the newspaper propaganda has been telling the southern mobs is this: “You need not trouble to lynch a Negro accused of crime. You can rely on our courts, in which only white judges,—only white jurors (poisoned with ruling class ideology) and only white spectators are allowed, to kill that Negro just as surely as if you were to bind him and light the kindling under his feet. We allow no Negroes to hear the case. We stuff the white population, which is to make up our juries, with lies about the char acter* of the Negro, so that they will be certain to convict. We can have the whole thing over with and the ‘nigger’ on his way to the gallows in sixteen minutes. This method may not be as pleasurable as a lynching, but it is as certain, and it puts the stamp of legality on the whole matter and prevents the possibility of inter ference with our established prac tices.” rpHE day after sentence had been passed on Edward Harris, the Chicago Tribune carried the following editorial: “Kentucky used the protective force of its state militia to give Ed ward Harris, Negro murderer and rapist, a trial and save him from a lynching. It was a quick trial, with a plea of guilty and a hanging sen tence, but the mob did not get him. “Harris killed a white man and his two children and attacked the wife. The justice usually admin stered in the south to such a Negro criminal involves a mob, a smashed jail door, a rope, and the nearest telegraph pole. Kentucky, calling 1,000 guardsmen into service at a cost to the state of some $30,000, is establishing a new civilized order in place of the barbarous method of lynching. “Kentucky’s example is the best argument yet offered against the Dyer bill. “The Dyer anti-lynching bill is pending in congress, its aim, to em power the'federal government to ar rest and prosecute those guilty of aiding in a lynching. The Dyer bill is bad because it relegates to the central government police powers properly belonging to the state. It should be defeated, but southern states, to justify their opposition, must demonstrate that there is no necessity for outside law to step In.” rpHE story of the course of the Dyer anti-lynching bill in congress is interesting. The republican party never intended the Dyer antl-lynching bill to become law, and saw to it that even if it became a law it could be used* for the reverse of its pretended purposes. Ever since the introduction of the bill in the fall of 1921 —which the republicans were unable to avoid —the republican caucus in congress, while pretending to be heartily in favor of the measure has made every effort to lose it on one pretext or an other. The recent newspaper cam paign against the bill is only the climax of the long story. The prevalence of lynching, espe cially in the southern states, no one in congress attempted to dispute. The report of the house judiciary commit tee said: “In the thirty years from 1889 to 1918, 3,223 persons were lynched, of whom 2,522 were Negroes and of these fifty were women ... the south (had) 2,834, with Georgia leading with 386 and Mississippi following with 373... In the year 1919, 77 Negroes, 4 whites and 2 Mexicans were lynched; ten of the Negroes were ex-soldiers, one was a woman. During 1920 there were 65 persons lynched; 6 were white and 59 were Negroes; 31 were hanged, 15 shot, 8 burned, 2 drowned, 1 flogged to death, and 8, manner unknown.” Os course the charge that the Negro is a beast who will take advantage of the Dyer la,w to commit atrocities, that he is especially prone to crime and must be dealt with by special measures, is one of the lies which .he ruling class of the south (and of the whole of the United States, for that matter) has used to poison the minds of white workers against black, to keep the Negro in a state of semi slavery for the benefit of the rich em ployer. . Many of the members of lynching parties in the south, knowing that no state official would presume to arrest a white man for the murder of a Negro, have taken no trouble to con ceal their identity, a few weeks ago the Chicago Defender, a Negro week ly, was able to print the picture of a mob, taken while the mob was in the act of burning a Negro. The members of the mob did not attempt to prevent the picture being taken, nor to deny their identity When the protograph was printed. The Dyer anti-lynching bill provides that any member of a mob which puts someone to death%hall be imprisoned for life, or for not less than five years, and that state and municipal officials who thru neglect of duty fail to pre vent lynchings shall be imprisoned not more than five years or fined not more than $5,000. Federal district courts would have jurisdiction. A pro vision originally contained in the bill, but later stricken out at the behest of the senate, required any county in which a person is lynched to forfeit SIO,OOO, which would go to the family of the victim. The bill defines “a mob or riotous assemblage" a3 “an assemb ly composed of five or more persons acting in concert for the purpose of depriving any person of his life with out authority of law.”. (This number was later changed to three.) The hideous “joker” in this bill Is easily seen. It is well understood that such a law, in the hands of a capital ist class government, would never be used in defense of members or groups of the exploited classes, but if ever applied (any more than the fourteenth and fifteenth amendments to the con stitution) it would be applied only for the framing up and hanging of such “a mob or riotous assemblage” as the Negro tenant-farmers of Elaine, Ark., or of strikers —Negro or white—whose “assembly composed of three or more persons acting in concert” for resist ance to exploitation Would be quickly -djudged to have the ‘'purpose of de priving any pejrson of his life without authority of law,” if, as usual, the agents of the ruling class succeeded in provoking violence.' This possibility has not been over looked by the capitalists. The New York Times, discussing the Dyer bill, commented editorially: “. . . It la noted that the only kill ings listed occurred In southern states. There Is no mention In the report of the recent massacre of non-union miners in the Herrin, III* bituminous coal fields.” 8 The introduction of the Dyer bill let loose a flood of race hating propa ganda in the house and the senate. The democrats, who could control no Negro votes and could therefore be more frank about their intentions, fili bustered for hours at a time to pre vent the bill from coming to a vote, using for their arguments all the lies •that, have for years poisoned the minds of southerners. Representative Garrett of Tennessee had this to say: “You gentlemen do not know what it iS“"to live in a section where a wife dare not travel alone in the fields. You do not know What it is to raise a daughter who after the age of ten years lives under the shadow of a Damoclean sword. When you put these ideas into the heads of those few black beasts of their race, you are increasing the commission of crime." And Representative Prout of North Carolina: “How do you think the black beast will view this law?” And Gar rett appealed to the anti-Chinese pre judice of ignorant California repres entatives, told them that they were “confronted with a perplexing race question,” and begged them to “stand with the opponents of the Dyer bill in resisting interference of the federal government in state affairs.” “What ever you people in the west decide to do in working out your problems,” said Garrett, "we of the south will un derstand.” Soon came the news that the anti lynching bill had divided the repub licans in congress. Some of them thought the bill “unconstitutional.” Others considered it “unnecessary.” Still others thought that it would be “unwise” to hold up other legislation' for “this one bill.” But the Negro leader, James Wel don Johnson, himself a muddled fol lower of the republican party, let the truth of the matter out when he pub licly declared a year and a half ago that there exists a “gentlemen’s agree ment” between the republican and de mocratic party leaders, by which Jtls~ always managed that just enuf votes are cast against the bill in the senate to defeat it, or a filibuster is allowed to kill it, —while the republicans re tain the reputation of being "for” it. But as far as there is any contro versy between northern republicans and southern democrats over this bill, it is a controversy between the par ticularism of the backward, rural south and the industrial north, to whose interest it is, generally, to ex tend federal jurisdiction over all phases of life in the back-country the south. But to pass this “anti lynching” bill is not necessary to the purpose, and it was easy to reach the "gentlemen’s agreement” to let it die. Finally however, the bill passed the house, jarith 17 republicans voting against it. In a to the sur prise of many, the senate committee reported favorably on the bill. Little doubt was expressed that, if the bill were allowed to come up, it would pass. Now the republicans were in an embarassing position. Fortunately for them, the democrats in the senate be gan a determined filibuster, to prevent the bill from coming up. The next day, word came from the republican caucus that their “dread of an extra session” would probably “force them to drop the anti-lynching measure.” And the day after that, the New York Times carried the headlines: “Filibuster kills antl-lynching bill. Republican senators in caucus agree to abandon the Dyer measure. Majority promises democrats bill shall not be called up again in present congress.” Senator Lodge said: “The conference decided very reluctantly that it was our duty to set aside the Dyer bill and go on with the business of the session." And there the Dyer bill has lain, until this year when republican news papers make much of the reports of southern democrats that they are well able to prevent lynchings themselves, and that Federal Interference is unne cessary, And thus the “gentlemen’s agree ment” can live, and southern ruling class can lynch its Negro slaves in the court room instead of "the public square.