Never Been a Time

Never Been a Time by Harper Barnes Read Free Book Online

Book: Never Been a Time by Harper Barnes Read Free Book Online
Authors: Harper Barnes
even saying “good morning” to them. 10
    Most of the blacks hired by the aluminum company in 1916 had lived in East St. Louis for at least a few months, some for years. The aluminum workers union was able to break through racial suspicion on both sides and persuade a few of the new black employees to join the union. Then, according to the union, management changed its tactics. At the end of 1916 and the beginning of 1917, the company began giving preference to blacks who had just arrived from the South and were without jobs. The newly arrived blacks had been lured to East St. Louis with false promises, union leaders charged, were desperate for work, and would be disinclined to join any white-run labor organization, or afraid to. 11

    In early October of 1916, a month before the voters would choose between the incumbent Democrat Woodrow Wilson and Republican Charles EvansHughes for president of the United States, Democrats in St. Clair County charged that the Republicans were importing thousands of itinerant blacks into East St. Louis to vote the party line in what was described as “Negro colonization.” The Republicans replied that the charges were spurious and purely political, but Democratic poll watchers appeared at all fifty-four polling places in the city and challenged the residency of all blacks trying to register to vote, even those who had lived in East St. Louis for many years. Something similar, it turned out, was going on across the lower Midwest in areas of recent black migration. 12
    The
St. Louis Argus
argued that the widespread challenges to black voters were yet another sign of the enmity toward blacks held by the Democratic Party and President Woodrow Wilson, who had received a significant minority of the black vote in the 1912 election. “Negroes who were seduced into supporting Wilson for President in 1912 are amazed at their own stupidity,” the black weekly declared, “and all but those who are Democrats for revenue only have long since repented and returned to the Republican fold and are working hard to undo the harm they did four years ago.” 13
    Wilson’s numerous black supporters in 1912 had included W. E. B. Du Bois and the NAACP. Du Bois had met with Wilson and had been won over by his promise to be the “president of all the people.” But after Wilson took office, he replaced a number of relatively high-ranking black officials left over from his Republican predecessors with white appointees, and he permitted his cabinet members—who included Josephus Daniels, the openly racist North Carolina newspaper editor—to segregate federal departments, creating separate black and white toilets and cafeterias. In many cases, blacks who supervised whites were demoted and replaced with white bosses. Wilson presided over the resegregation of federal Washington, which under his Republican predecessors had been a racially mixed haven for educated blacks. 14
    The
Argus
advised blacks to vote the straight Republican ticket. And justly wary of drawn-out challenges at the polls it also urged its readers, “Take no chances, vote early.” W. E. B. Du Bois, disgusted with both Wilson and the Republicans, recommended that African Americans either vote for the Socialist candidate or stay home. 15
    Wilson’s particular version of what later came to be called the Southern Strategy depended in part on minimizing the black electorate and arousing white voters in swing states like Illinois with the notion that blacks were tryingto steal the election. The president personally stoked the fire by warning against vote frauds “perpetrated by conscienceless agents of the sinister forces.” Racial antagonism already burned intensely in the border states and the lower Midwest and sometimes flared into deadly conflagration. For example, three weeks before the November election, in Paducah, Kentucky, little more than the width of the Ohio River from southern

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