National Negro Week was inaugurated during the Communist Party’s election campaign of 1928, but it was in 1929, as part of a larger party-building campaign, that the Week became a national Communist Party event, continuing until the 1950s. In two fascinating articles Cyril Briggs, then Director of the Communist Party’s National Negro Department, gives Party direction for work over the period of May 10th to 20th, with a focus on fighting white chauvinism, introducing the Party to Black workers, building the Party’s press, and highlighting Black revolutionary history, particularly Toussaint L’Ouverture. He then offers a report in the spirit of ‘Bolshevik self-criticism’ on the results, successes and failures, of the ‘National Negro Week’ campaign after its completion.
‘National Negro Week Activities’ by Cyril V. Briggs from the Daily Worker. Vol. 6 No. 42. April, 25, 1929.
The following statement, setting aside the period of May 10 to 20th as National Negro Week, in which to dramatize the struggles of the Negro Workers and Farmers, and calling upon the whole Party to mobilize for the Negro work, has been issued by the National Negro Department of the Central Committee, Communist Party of the U. S. A., over the signature of Cyril Briggs, acting director.
The Negro workers and farmers in the United States constitute the most exploited section of the American working class. Victims of white ruling class terrorism, lynch-murder, race hatred, police brutality and a system of bold-faced robbery on the part of the white planters of the south, coupled with a humiliating social, political and economic status, they are leaving the southern agrarian districts in increasing numbers for the cities and industrial employment. With this movement there is developing a numerous Negro proletariat, capable of giving leadership to the oppressed Negroes of the world.
These millions of workers, unorganized and bitterly exploited, are herded into filthy segregated districts at extortionate rents. They are allowed only the lowest paid and most menial jobs under the capitalist system. They are being constantly discriminated against in industry, in the courts, in government departments, in every phase of capitalist society. They suffer from all the ills inflicted upon the working class, and, in addition, are oppressed as Negroes, as a racial minority, thus suffering a double exploitation. Communist Party Champion of Oppressed. The Communist Party of the U. S. A., as the Party equally of the black and white workers, as the historic champion of the most oppressed sections of the working class, has pledged itself to fight the battle of the Negro workers and farmers. Tricked by politicians, betrayed by their own bourgeois leaders to their class enemies, burned and tortured by white mobs of planters and business men, fed with soft meaningless phrases by liberals and the yellow socialists, both black and white, double-crossed by the American Federation of Labor, which has refused to organize them or segregates them into Jim-Crow unions, these Negro workers and farmers must be organized as part and parcel of the great revolutionary army which will overthrow the capitalist system in the United States and create a republic of workers and farmers, without regard to race or color.
As part of its Build the Party Drive, the Central Committee designates the period of May 10 to May 20 as National Negro Week. During this period the full strength and resources of the Party must be mobilized to dramatize the struggles of the Negro masses and push the Negro work of the Party and to win these masses to our standard.
Party Must Prepare Now!
Every district, section and unit of the Party must begin Now to prepare for National Negro Week. Those districts which have not yet elected a District Negro Committee and a director of Negro work must do so at once. Every section must elect a Section Negro Committee. Every unit must have a comrade responsible for Negro work. (This applies even to those units and sections functioning in territories where there is no Negro population. These will have to function in Negro work in one way or another, i.e. mobilizing sentiment in favor of the struggle of the Negro against all forms of white oppression, raising funds for the energetic prosecution of the Party’s Negro work, etc.) National Negro Week must be opened in each district with a mobilization of forces byway of an affair of some kind: dinner, dance, etc., the proceeds of which shall be sent to the National Negro Department of the Central Committee to apply on Negro work. The District Negro Committees must arrange to have speakers appear before each Party unit to set aside a meeting solely for the discussion of the problems and struggles of the Negro masses and the Party’s Negro work. An outline for this discussion will be sent to all District Negro Committees and must be transmitted to the units.
During the entire period of May 10 to May 20, there must be held mass meetings, street meetings, factory gate meetings, inter-racial social affairs (for the purpose of bringing the black and white workers together and in protest and defiance of the capitalist dictum of racial separation). These meetings must be utilized to mobilize the Negro masses for the struggle against white oppression, to teach them the necessity of fighting shoulder to shoulder with the revolutionary white workers against the common enemy, to point out to them the treacherous role of the labor bureaucrats of the American Federation of Labor, to carry to them the message of Communism and to acquaint them with the structure of the Communist Party of the U. S. A., and the leading role being played by Negro comrades who, it should be pointed out, are on all important committees of our Party (including the Central Committee with five Negro members, two of whom are also on the Political Committee) in line with the decisions of the Communist International and the Sixth National Convention. These meetings must also be used (1) to mobilize against the war danger; (2) to point out to the Negro workers the role of the Soviet Union in the fight against imperialism and the necessity for the workers of all races uniting in defense of the Soviet Union; (3) to get Negro workers and farmers to send delegates to the Trade Union Unity Convention in Cleveland on June 1, and 2; and (4) to enlist support for the southern strikes and create favorable sentiment toward left-wing leadership in the labor movement. Here it must be pointed out to our own comrades that the Party is now entering a new phase of its life with its entrance into the southern industrial districts as a leader of the struggles of the masses against capitalist rationalization. Here for the first time in our existence as a Party in the United States we face the task of organizing black and white workers in large numbers in the same locals and on a basis of full equality. This makes it all the more essential that we should push the work of mobilizing the white workers in support of the struggles of the Negro masses, and energetically strive for inter-racial labor solidarity by pointing out to the workers of all races how capitalism seeks to divide and disrupt the working class in its desperate effort to perpetuate its fascist rule.
Toussaint L’Ouverture Memorial Meetings.
National Negro Week must culminate in the fullest Party mobilization for participation in the Toussaint L’Ouverture Memorial Meetings which the American Negro Labor Congress, with the co-operation of other Negro working class organizations, will hold throughout the country on May 20 in honor of the great Negro leader of the Haitian Revolution. Where there is no indication that the Negro organizations themselves will hold such meetings, the Party must endeavor to hold Toussaint L’Ouverture Memorial Meetings in the Negro districts, inviting the Negro organizations to participate.
Fight White Chauvinism!
The functions of the District Negro Committees must be both to do work among the Negro workers and farmers and to wage a ruthless campaign against the slightest manifestation of white chauvinism in the ranks of the Party. The Central Committee has given ample evidence of its determination to use the sharpest organizational measures against any Party member guilty of white chauvinism. Already there have been several expulsions on this charge. The District Negro Committees and all other Party committees must support the Central Committee in a relentless war against this non-Bolshevik attitude.
The Party Press.
The Party press must give full co-operation for National Negro Week. It must fully support the National Negro Department and the District Negro Committees in waging a wide ideological campaign against white chauvinism among the working class. It must publish in lull the articles and statements sent it in preparation for, and during National Negro Week. It must also show that it realizes the importance of Negro work by having its own articles and editorials on Negro problems and struggles. It must intensify during National Negro Week its campaign against all forms of oppression to which Negro workers and farmers are subjected. Party editors must thoroughly acquaint themselves with the problems and struggles of the Negro masses and must learn to link these up with the struggles of the various language groups. National Negro Week must be utilized to mobilize the full strength of the Party behind our Negro work and must usher in a new era of intensified activity in this field! Special instructions have been sent all District Negro Committees. Definite tasks must be assigned to every comrade and they must be held strictly responsible for the carrying out of these tasks. A check-up must be made and a report sent to this department.
For full social equality for the Negro!
For equal opportunity for employment for Negro and white workers!
For equal pay for equal work for Negro workers!
For the admittance of Negro workers into the unions on a basis of full equality, with participation in leadership!
Against lynching and other forms of white ruling class terrorism!
Against Jim-Crowism! Against segregation! Against disfranchisement!
Against discrimination in any form! Against the convict lease system! Against landlordism which sucks the blood of black and white workers! Against capitalism which robs and exploits the workers and strives to divide them with a propaganda of race hatred and prejudice!
For inter-racial working class solidarity! For a Workers’ and Farmers’ Government in the United States!
(Signed) Cyril V. Briggs for the NATIONAL NEGRO DEPARTMENT OF THE CENTRAL COMMITTEE.
‘Results of National Negro Week’ by Cyril V. Briggs from the Daily Worker. Vol. 6 No. 79. June 8, 1929.
National Negro Week is over, but the Party’s Negro work has just begun. While full reports have not yet been received from the districts as to the measure of success achieved in each district in the task of mobilizing the entire Party membership for Negro work, the National Negro department has sufficient data on hand to permit of a careful analysis of the results attained and of frank Bolshevik self-criticism of the manner in which our activities were carried out during National Negro Week.
First, let us consider the Party’s purpose in having a national Negro week. The communications sent to the District Negro Committees by the National Negro Department before and during National Negro Week stressed that “the period of May 10 to May 20 shall be National Negro Week, and shall be used for the purpose of mobilizing the entire membership behind the Negro work of the Party, building the American Negro Labor Congress the relief committee, the Negro Champion, organizing tenants’ leagues, etc.”
It was also repeatedly pointed out that National Negro Week must be utilized for dramatizing the struggles of the Negroes and for dramatizing the support by the Communist Party of the struggle against white ruling class terrorism, against lynching, against Jim-Crowism, against segregation, against disfranchisement, and for full political, social and racial equality of the Negroes.
District Negro committees were instructed to send mixed groups of white and Negro workers to theatres, restaurants and other public places known to be practicing discrimination against the Negroes, and that any refusal to sell tickets to, or serve our Negro comrades, was to be utilized for a mass demonstration against these places and against the whole system of racial discrimination, with picketing of the offending places by groups of white and Negro workers.
In this way, it was pointed out, the struggles of the Negro workers would be dramatized and at the same time we would also be dramatizing the historic role of the Communist Party in leading the struggles of the Negro masses against capitalist oppression and exploitation, against white ruling class terrorism, lynching, disfranchisement, etc.
No Broad Agitational Base.
From the data at present on hand, it would appear that the campaign was practically barren of that broad agitational base sought by the National Office and for which directives were sent to each district. Only in Paterson (District 2) did National Negro Week achieve that agitational base. In other parts of District 2, notably in Harlem (Section 4 of District 2) several attempts were made to achieve this agitational base, but the first attempts proving unsuccessful in uncovering racial discrimination (the places tested having evidently changed their policies by reason of the growing pressure of the Negro population and the necessity of having to seek the Negro’s trade) the matter was dropped.
The Toussaint L’Ouverture Memorial Meetings, held in conjunction with the A.N.L.C., were generally idly organized and poorly attended, these meetings offered a splendid opportunity to bring Negro and white workers together and to acquaint the Negro workers with their revolutionary background at the Achievements and Shortcomings; Must Rally Workers for Intensified Negro Work same time carrying on an ideological campaign against chauvinism among the white workers.
This opportunity was muffed because of poor arrangements and improper handling. Boston, perhaps, had the greatest success with the memorial meetings, with Detroit next. In District Two, with its more than 250,000 Negro population, only two memorial meetings were held, one in Brooklyn which was fairly well attended, the other in Harlem. This latter was an absolute farce, with only about 75 workers present. Very few of the white comrades were present, indicating that the decision of the Communist International to the contrary, there is still a marked underestimation of Negro work in the Party. The poor attendance of Negro workers can be traced to the failure of speakers to show up for the street meetings held previously to the memorial meeting.
The Negro comrades were particularly to blame in this respect. However, the white comrades must get over the idea that street meetings in Negro communities are absolutely impossible unless a Negro comrade is present to speak. If the white comrades will give the necessary attention to a study of the problems of the Negro masses they will not continue to consider themselves inadequately equipped to address a meeting of Negro workers.
Nor will they fail, as now, to enlist the sustained interest of Negro audiences. Their failure in this respect is generally due to the fact that they do not know how to link up the Party’s program and slogans with the special problems facing the Negro workers.
Their attitude on the Negro question is not one of study of the special problems with which the Negro workers are faced but either of mechanical and confused (confused because of failure to give the necessary study to Communist International decisions on the Negro) adherence to Communist International decisions, or of a sort of condescending interest in the Party’s Negro work, which is symbolized in their attitude to the Negro Champion, which they usually do not buy to read themselves but “to give it to some Negro worker.”
Fairly Successful Meets.
In Kansas City, in Boston, in Chicago, in Detroit, in Cleveland, there were fairly successful memorial meetings from an agitational viewpoint. The National Negro Department co-operated with the districts wherever requested in sending out national speakers to cover their affairs. Comrade Moore was sent to address the memorial meetings in Boston, in Philadelphia, and also travelled to Buffalo to find that in spite of a request for a speaker no arrangements had actually been made for a memorial meeting. Comrade Moore also spoke at the Harlem memorial meeting. Comrade Hall spoke at two memorial meetings in the South, where for the first time the Party and the A.N.L.C. are penetrating on a healthy basis, drawing in proletarian elements of both races and discarding the professional and petty business element which heretofore hindered the Party’s growth in the South. In no district, however, outside of District Two, was there any success in carrying out the financial campaign for the Negro Champion.
In sharp contrast with the failures of the campaign and the poor attendance the memorial meetings, was the methodical arrangement and splendid success of the Negro Champion Dinner in District Two. Over five hundred persons were present at this dinner, where five hundred dollars in cash was raised for the Negro Champion, with over $1,500 pledged by various organizations and individuals. The dinner was a success both agitationally and financially.
The committee in charge of arrangements, of which Comrade King was chairman, deserves the highest praise for the efficient way in which the affair was arranged. So do the comrades who co-operated with the committee, and particularly Comrade Joseph Brodsky who gave invaluable aid both at the dinner and before.
Of course the National Negro Departments had its failings, too. The department fell down in the matter of getting out the Negro Champion in time for distribution at arid before the memorial meetings. This was due to two causes, the absolute lack of funds and the shortage of forces at the center where one comrade has for the past three months been handling the work of three. The first reason was, of course, the decisive one.
The department should also have printed an ANLC leaflet and a Party leaflet for national distribution among the Negro masses during National Negro Week, but here again the lack of funds was decisive factor. They must, however, share the blame for the failure to get out these leaflets.
Had they responded with orders for these leaflets and with remittance, as requested, the shortage of funds at the center would have been overcome. All they did, however, was to order leaflets, conveniently forgetting to forward remittance.
Must Learn by Mistakes.
Our Party must learn by these mistakes and in the task of pushing our work among the Negro masses we must seek to benefit by our past mistakes and experiences. We must learn the necessity of proper preparation for our mass demonstrations. And we must energetically carry on our work among the Negro masses and the fight against white chauvinism, against ruling class terrorism, against discrimination in the trade unions, etc. We must always bear in mind the words of the Communist International:
“It must be borne in mind that the Negro masses will not be won for the revolutionary struggles until such time as the most conscious section of the white workers show, by action, that they are fighting against all racial discrimination and persecution. Every member of the Party must bear in mind that the age-long oppression of the Colonial and weak nationalities by the imperialist powers has given rise to a feeling of bitterness among the masses of the enslaved countries as well as a feeling of distrust toward the oppressing nations in general and toward the proletariat of those Nations.”
Rally to Negro Work!
National Negro week is over, but our Negro work is just begun. We must mobilize every district, every section and every unit for full, active participation in the struggles of the Negro masses. Wo must increasingly intensify and dramatize the struggles of the Negro masses.
We must clearly and concretely dramatize the historic role of the Communist Party as the champion of the most oppressed section of the working class, and for the fight against lynching, against Jim-Crowism, etc., and for absolute political, social and racial equality for the Negro race.
Down with Jim-Crowism!
Down with lynching!
Down with capitalism and imperialism!
Down with white ruling class terrorism!
Down with segregation and race prejudice!
Long live international and interracial working class solidarity!
The Daily Worker began in 1924 and was published in New York City by the Communist Party US and its predecessor organizations. Among the most long-lasting and important left publications in US history, it had a circulation of 35,000 at its peak. The Daily Worker came from The Ohio Socialist, published by the Left Wing-dominated Socialist Party of Ohio in Cleveland from 1917 to November 1919, when it became became The Toiler, paper of the Communist Labor Party. In December 1921 the above-ground Workers Party of America merged the Toiler with the paper Workers Council to found The Worker, which became The Daily Worker beginning January 13, 1924.