White Violence and Black Response: From Reconstruction to Montgomery

By Herbert Shapiro | Go to book overview

TEN
In the Midst of the New Deal

IN DEALING with the reality of racist violence the 1930s saw the continuing dialogue between the legalistic strategies advocated by the NAACP and the mass action, mass publicity techniques of leftwing radicals. But in the formation of the National Negro Congress (NNC) a new factor entered the situation, the coming into being of a movement that worked to unify various black protest movements. This was a serious and purposeful attempt to give organizational structure to race unity, quite different from the fiasco back in 1924 when Kelly Miller had assembled an All-Race Negro Assembly or Sanhedrin of black notables in Chicago that produced little more than a set of platitudes.1 The congress was an outgrowth of the Joint Committee on National Recovery, a coordinating council of black organizations whose establishment in 1933 had been encouraged by the Roosevelt administration. In May 1935 the joint committee, in cooperation with the Division of Social Sciences of Howard University, held a conference at Howard to discuss a program for action by black Americans. This meeting produced the call for the National Negro Congress, and the first national meeting of the new organization was held in Chicago, February 14-16, 1936. Sixty-eight men and women served on the original executive council, including Ralph Bunche, Lester Granger, Henry Lee Moon, Benjamin J. Davis, Jr., and Max Yergan. John P. Davis, the secretary of the congress, described the new movement as "a federation of organizations formed for the purpose of pooling the strength of the various constituent groups in the attack upon the evils retarding the securing by the Negro of his manhood rights."2

Richard Wright described the atmosphere of excitement and tension prevailing as delegates and observers assembled at the Eighth Regiment armory in Chicago. "All the talk takes the form of questions," he wrote, "`What do you think we can do?' `Will things be different?' These are the words of sharecroppers who hitchhiked through the cold to come to the National Negro Congress. These are the words of industrial workers,

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