Paul Robeson (1898-1976) was a famous African American athlete, singer, actor, and fighter for peace and justice. A supporter of socialism, he wrote in his autobiography, “Here I Stand,” that a socialist society is “an advance to a higher stage of life … economically, socially, culturally, and ethically.” The United States Postal Service has honored him on this year’s Black Heritage Stamp.

Is the history of the Negro people in the United States to be measured only by the achievements of a number of outstanding individuals, as important as are these successes? I submit that our history is exactly what the words say – the history of “the whole Negro people.”

This history is not individual, but collective in its essence. It is a history of the group. Our forefathers were herded into slave ships, herded onto the Southern plantations, and throughout the 250-or-so years of slavery we were herded and oppressed as one solid mass of humanity. We rebelled as one group, and with our allies, we fought our way to Freedom as a compact and great family unit.

No people feels more than we that what one Negro does affects the whole people. When I was playing football I had to always remember, whatever the provocation, that I represented a whole people. I had to play clean, and I did. Of course, once in a while the ambulance rolled up to take off one of the rough boys who had called me all the names in the book and slugged me every which way – but nobody ever saw me hit him. Of course he was gone, but he somehow managed to fall right into my knee or my swinging elbow or fist. ’Twasn’t my fault. And I always helped pick him up – so tenderly.

And in my classes I had to stay up late to prove that Blacks could also measure up in their studies. But every Negro child knows and accepts these obligations. We all know that we have a group responsibility.

And today, until the great majority of the Negro people have equal opportunities for advancement – until we all, every one of our little boys and girls all over this land – have full equality in every phase of our social life, Negro history cannot rest with the recital of personal victories, however fine.

In fact, I found that this was apt to work in reverse. The rulers of this land – keeping the millions of our people in near-serfdom and poverty, exposing us to terror and gross inhumanity – always point to the permitted achievements of a few of us in justification.

Now, the bulk of Negro people – the Negro worker, the struggling Negro, the aspiring but frustrated youth – realize that at this moment we must look at history anew. Against the background of the terror-ridden Martinsville, Harlem or Birmingham, he sees a changing world emerge: a free China, an India struggling to break its remaining chains, a restless, militant West Indies and Latin America, a smoldering Africa. He is beginning to understand that the full freeing of these lands will mean a free South for Negro and white poor labor, a free people’s America.

In the long run, the 95 percent or more of the laboring and poor farming sections of our people, North and especially South, are the power. They are the power in the churches, in the fraternal organizations, in the clubs, in any of the important organs of Negro life. They support the doctors, the lawyers, the scientists, the artists. Take the base away and nothing remains.

Waiting eagerly to play their historic role are magnificently equipped Negro trade union leaders, powerful figures in the labor movement from coast to coast. These sincere, courageous men and women stand ready to accept a tremendous responsibility. The responsibility of dedicated leadership, together with important militant fighters of the Negro ministry, with potentially large sections of Negro intellectuals, who must know, or if not must learn and never forget, that we Negroes will all go up or stay down together.

These Negro working people know through bitter experience in labor struggles that the true allies of the Negro people are the oppressed and hard-driven fellow white workers in steel, coal, distributive trades, and other industries. They earnestly seek unity with foreign born, Jewish, and poor white Southern workers – because all are victims of the same ruling class fanaticism of Anglo-Saxon superiority.

Excerpted from “Here’s My Story,” Freedom newspaper, February 1951.

***(See related story below)

James E. Jackson (b. 1914) was a founder and leader of the Southern Negro Youth Congress and an organizer of a number of strikes in the tobacco industry. He served as editor of The Worker (a predecessor of the PWW), as Southern regional secretary of the Communist Party, and as a leader of the Party’s organizing work in the auto industry. He also directed the CPUSA’s political education and international solidarity work for many years. He lives in Brooklyn, N.Y.

The past decade (1956-1966) in the United States can only be described as “the decade of the Black people’s mass upsurge for freedom and equal rights!” From Montgomery, Ala., to Watts in Los Angeles; from Chicago to Grenada, Miss., mass actions for freedom have been waged by Black people in a variety of forms – forms which correspond properly to the requirements of the goals and the circumstances in which the battles have unfolded.

The object of the Black people’s struggle in the United States is not to blow out the brains of the white masses, but to rid their brains of race hatred and legally and physically prevent them from committing anti-Black racist acts of prejudice.

Lenin taught that the more enlightened workers must constantly appeal to the reason and the advanced self-interest of the prejudiced ones with confidence in their ability to overcome their prejudices.

Marx and Engels in their day were acquainted with the almost unbroken chain of slave revolts which periodically rocked the slaveholding oligarchy of the southern part of the United States. They joined their voices to that of the great Black strategist of abolitionism, Frederick Douglass, in appealing to Lincoln to enroll Blacks into the armed forces as the quickest route to military victory over the slaveholders’ rebellion of the Confederacy.

The epic story of the struggle for freedom of the Black people is as glorious a part of the history of the United States as is the near-genocide of the American Indians a measure of its shame.

How many martyrs? How many casualties? How many hanged? Lynched? How many imprisoned?

The 5,000 Blacks who were lynched since 1900 were put to death to discipline those who were stirring from “their place.” Buckets of blood oxidized black and hard on the concrete floors in hundreds of jails throughout the southern routes of the “freedom riders” and “demonstrators” over these past 10 years when some 30,000 Blacks were jailed for defying segregation laws and resisting the police.

The matter of the strategy and tactics of the struggle for Black people’s freedom and equality has been a subject of voluminous works by Blacks in the struggle for more than 200 years: The 19th century opened with the moving appeal by David Walker. It produced the great heritage of the literature of abolitionism – dominated by the writing of Frederick Douglass – on the strategy and tactics of the freedom struggle.

The 20th century opened with W.E.B. Du Bois’ ringing Niagara Appeal, and there has continued, unabated, an ongoing elaboration of policy and theory based upon the experiences of the struggle of the Black people for their freedom. This particular people’s struggle is certainly one of the most complicated and intertwined and interrelated national struggles known to history – being both a national question and a class question, a minority question and a race question.

The whole world has applauded the heroism displayed by the current upsurge of Blacks in barehanded confrontation with police and soldiers across the country. Honest and responsible revolutionaries have marveled at their ingenuity and studied their creation of forms of mass actions in circumstances in which they were vastly outnumbered and forced to find a form of struggle in the midst of a veritable armed camp.

Indeed, the history of the Black Americans’ struggle for freedom constitutes one of the most courageous and glorious books in the library of humanity’s struggles to overthrow tyranny. The Blacks’ 400 years of uncrushable resolve and fight for freedom, first as a slave and then as racially oppressed freemen, is an inspiring epic of mass heroism.

From a memo to the editorial staff of The Worker, October 1966.