Document 27: "Clarina Michelson, Communist Candidate For Assembly, 15th Assembly District, NYC," Typescript, 30 October 1934, Clarina Michelson Papers, Tamiment Library, New York University.


    By the time of this speech in late 1934, the International Labor Defense (I.L.D.) no longer controlled the defense of the Scottsboro Boys. A break had occurred with attorney Samuel Leibowitz, who had defended the Scottsboro Nine for the I.L.D. in the 1933 trials and the first appeals in 1934. He now aligned himself with a more traditional coalition of organizations and the Democratic Party--the Scottsboro Defense Committee. The I.L.D. eventually joined this coalition as an equal partner with the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People and other organizations--a distinctly reduced role for the I.L.D.

    Clarina Michelson ran for the 15th Assembly seat in the fall of 1934. The rhetoric of this campaign speech resonated with the venomous feelings still prevailing toward Leibowitz for his betrayal of the I.L.D. She reasserted the Communist Party's role as still the only true defender of "full political, economic and social equality for the Negro people."

    Candidate Michelson skewered President Franklin Roosevelt for his refusal to meet the protesters who descended upon Washington in May 1933 and 1934, led by the Scottsboro Mothers and Ruby Bates. She continued to hold aloft the banner of "organized militant mass action" as the only way "to free the innocent Scottsboro boys" and "smash the system…that oppresses and enslaves the Negro people and the working class." Michelson's election bid ultimately failed.


    Attorney Liebowitz [sic] and his friends, while seriously endangering the lives of the Scottsboro boys, in their shameful attck on the International Labor Defense, are making herculean efforts to try to win the Negro and white workers away from a program of struggle - struggle against lynching, struggle against segregation and jim-crowism, away from struggle for full political, economic and social equality for the Negro people, away from struggle for the release of the Scottsboro boys and other class war prisoners. They are attempting to persuade the working class and its allies to have blind faith in legalistic methods, faith in the ruling class and its agents,-state and federal officials, the press and the courts.The fiendish torture and lynching of the young Negro worker, Claude Neal, in Florida, broadcast in the press for 36 hours while Neal was held captive, "to invite white guests," as the N.Y. Times put it, and the official statement of Gov. Dave Sholtz that "under existing circumstances it would have been futile to call out the militia," are their answer.

    Mr. Libeowitz [sic] last year tried to sell the freedom of the Scottsboro boys for Democratic votes. Thousands of letters were sent by him to Negroes in Harlem promising to bring the Scottsboro boys back alive, and for this favor, he asked just one little favor in return-Vote Democrat. In the attack in the I.L.D. and "Communistic methods," his chief supporters are the Negro Newspapers, one of whose editors is a member of the American Workers Party, the NY Amsterdam News, now urging its readers to vote the straight Republican ticket, "to build a brighter future for themselves and their race," and Mr. Fred R. Moore, of the N.Y. Age, super-petty bourgeois nationalist who has stated "he would like to see all whites [unreadable] out of Harlem, and all jobs filled by Negroes." Several leading preachers, the Rev. King, the Rev. Bolden, and other misleaders are stepping along, professing their faith in the white ruling class, and strictly legalistic methods. This, of course, has always also consistently been the policy of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People.

    It is clear that so far the lives of the Scottsboro boys have been saved by the thousands of protests, demonstrations and world-wide support won them by the I.L.D. and Communist Party. Even the servile Negro press has had to admit this. Thousands of Negro and white workers have forced the ruling class to realize they were watching the Scottsboro boys and guarding their interests. Now, Mr. Liebowitz [sic] and Co want this support taken away. Can we trust these "nice" white judges, governors, (like Gov Scholtz), papers (like the Southern Press and NY Times), the sheriffs, courts, leading citizens and politicians? Can we trust only in the law, as Mr Liebowitz [sic] and his friends would like?

    No one has ever been convicted under the law in the states where there are anti-lynching laws. Only recently, due to the pressure from the white and the Negro masses have even any gestures been made to arrest the known lynchers. No one lyncher was convicted at Marion, Indiana, where Thomas Shipp and Abraham Smith, two Negro workers were taken from jail and hanged, nor at Walhalla, S.C. where Allen Green was dragged from his cell and hanged. Nor were there any convictions of lynchers at Chickasha, Oklahoma, where a mob broke into the prison, shot Henry Argo inthe head, and left thinking he was dead. He was taken to a hospital which refused to receive him and was then returned to jail where lynchers again entered and fatally stabbed him in the chest, while he was lying helpless on a cot.

    The Southern Commission on the Study of Lynching states in "Lynchings and What They Mean" that definite information was obtained, no convictions, of persons who took part in lynchings in 1930 at Thomasville, Ailey, Ocilla and Darien, in Georgia; also at Bryan, Texas; Emelle, Alabama; Walhalla, S.C.; and Chickasha, Oklahoma. At Scooba, Mississippi, two of the most prominent citizens, a planter and a storekeeper, are known by everyone to have organized and put through one of the most brutal double lynchings ever to have taken place. These gentlemen are active in the church, local school, and other important community activities. In Rocky Ford, Mississippi, photographs in the town paper of at least 100 lynchers were clearly visible, but nothing was ever done to indict them. George Johnson, of Sherman, Texas, was shot by a sheriff's posse after barricading himself in his cabin, for demanding money owing him by his landlord. His body was tied to an automobile and dragged through the town, and later burned in front of a Negro church. Police directed traffic so as not to interfere with dragging the corpse through the streets.

    But this same "law" can sentence a young Negro worker, Angelo Herndon, to a 20-year sentence for daring to lead Negro and white workers in a demand for bread and their starving families. It can keep Tom Mooney rotting for years in jail, and countless other prisoners, on framed-up charges, whose real crime consist in fighting for the rights of the workers.

    The lynch mobs, such as the one that just tortured and killed Claude Neal, are headed by the respectable white citizens of the town, supported by the police, the courts, and very often openly upheld by the press, as in the Neal instance, and by the leading politicians of the city and state. When George Hughes was roasted alive in his cell in Sherman, Texas, the Governor forbade the sheriff to fire on the lynch mob. The Jackson Daily News of Mississippi announced ahead of time the time and place of the lynching of John Hatfield. And the mob was addressed by the District Attorney while the lynching was going on. The Sheriff of Thomasville, GA, bragged that he "saw to it they got the right man." The sheriff of McIntosh County, Ga stated: I am glad that damn nigger is dead. Except for my oath and bond, I'd have killed him myself as soon as they brought him within shooting distance of this jail," referring to George Grant, Negro worker shot to death in his cell. The American Legion heads in the recent lynching of George Armwood in Maryland, openly sided with the lynchers.

    Many of the churches are strongly supporting the attack on the I.L.D. and asking their followers to have faith in the very ruling class that organizes, perpetuates and defends lynch law. The Rev. L H King, preacher at a million-dollar Harlem church, Rev. Bolden, Dr. George Haynes are all playing leading parts. The International Ministers Alliance, meeting in Harlem recently refused to allow four mothers of the Scottsboro boys they profess to be so interested in, to speak at their meeting. Other Negro churches, and many white, have barred the Scottsboro mothers with their message. According to the Report of the Southern Commission, very frequently the Churches either ignore or excuse the lynching in their vicinity. It states that the wife of one minister at Honey Grove, Texas, ran to the home of another minister, calling, "Come, I never did see a nigger burned and I wouldnt miss the chance." The Report also states that a "large proportion of Georgia County editors justified the lynching of James Irwin at Ocilla." Before the year was out, five more lynchings had taken place. Negro property owners who hope for a place in the sun with the leading white citizens, also do not protest. A wealthy Negro doctor with an office on the main street of Sherman, Texas, when asked what he had to say about a recent lynching, answered: "Do you think I want to move my office?" Mr. Schuyler, of the Pittsburg Courier, with his vicious attacks on the Scottsboro boys and Angelo Herndon, evidently also has his eyes on Main Street.

    Lynchings in this country have taken place in the same proportion in Republican and Democratic states. Hoover, the Republican, (lauded by the Amsterdam News,) and his jim-crowing of the Gold-Star Negro mothers; Roosevelt, the Democrat, (lauded by Mr. Liebowitz, [sic]) and his refusal to see the Scottsboro marchers, and his shelving of Negro politicians, are both covered with the same lily-whitewash. The Socialist Party leadership has consistently shown its position on the Negro question. Although Mr. Frank Crosswaith, Negro of Harlem, has several times run for political office, the S.P. does not want to "antagonize" southern whites. A.F. Von Blon, candidate for Lieutenant-Governor in 1930, and a leading socialist of Texas, wrote regarding a Negro Communist candidate for the U.S. Senate: "You know the south well enough to know that it will not be class-conscious enough for at least 50 years to tolerate voting for a colored man." (James W. Ford, Negro worker of Alabama, and leading communist, ran for Vice-President in 1932). And Heywood Broun, accepted Socialist leader wrote: "If I were a candidate for high executive or judiciary office, I would say even without being cornered, that I would not now sanction the efforts to enforce the 14th and 15th amendments to the Constitution of the United States."--the amendments granting Negroes citizenship and the right to vote.

    The Communist Party has also consistently put forward its position on the Negro question, with an uncompromising fight for equal social, political and economic rights for the Negro people, north and south, east and west. And for the right of the Negro people to set up a republic in the Black Belt, the strip of land running through several states, where Negroes are in the majority, and where they would have full governmental authority, with rights to the white minority, and determine for themselves whether their country should be federated to the US? or have complete political independence. Only in the Sovuet Union are national minorities given the fullest support and cooperation. There, there are no lynchings, no jim-crowing, but full unconditional equality for the Negro people and members of other national minorities.

    No, Mr Liebowitz [sic]. We know you and your friends, the white supporters of the ruling class, and the Negro Uncle Thomases, would very much like to have the International Labor Defense, and especially the Communist Party, wiped off the face of the earth, because with our militant program of struggle, we challenge and fight the same ruling class that you support. We Negro and white workers, while providing the best legal talent, will continue to arouse and lead Negro and white workers in united mass action to demand and fight for the freedom of the Scottsboro boys, … and the other victims of the ruling class that you and your friends uphold. Only through this organized militant mass action will we be able to free the innocent Scottsboro boys, will we be able to smash the system you uphold, that oppresses and enslaves the Negro people and the working class.

back to top