FDR’s Attorney General Warned Black Newspapers That He Would “Shut Them All Up”

(p. 12) . . . as the former Chicago Defender editor and reporter Ethan Michaeli shows in his extraordinary history, “The Defender,” the Negro press barons attacked military segregation with a zeal that set Roosevelt’s teeth on edge. The Negro press warned black men against Navy recruiters who would promise them training as radiomen, technicians or mechanics — then put them to work serving food to white men. It made its readers understand that black men and women in uniform were treated worse in Southern towns than German prisoners of war and sometimes went hungry on troop trains because segregationists declined to feed them. It focused unflinchingly on the fistfights and gun battles that erupted between blacks and whites on military bases. And it reiterated the truth that no doubt cut Roosevelt the most deeply: His government’s insistence on racial separation was of a piece with the “master race” theory put in play by Hitler in Europe.
This was not the first time The Defender and its sister papers had attacked institutional racism. That part of the story begins with Robert S. Abbott, the transplanted Southerner who created The Defender in 1905 and fashioned it into a potent weapon.
. . .
The black press was considerably more powerful and self-assured by 1940, when Abbott died and his nephew John H. Sengstacke succeeded him.
. . .
Things stood thus in 1942, when Sengstacke traveled to Washington to meet with Attorney General Francis Biddle. Sengstacke found Biddle in a conference room, sitting at a table across which was spread copies of black newspapers that included The Defender, The Courier and The Afro-American. Biddle said that the black papers were flirting with sedition and threatened to “shut them all up.”

For the full review, see:
BRENT STAPLES. “‘A ‘Most Dangerous’ Newspaper.” The New York Times Book Review (Sun., JAN. 10, 2016): 12.
(Note: ellipses added.)
(Note: the online version of the review has the date JAN. 4, 2016, and has the title “”The Defender,’ by Ethan Michaeli.”)

The book under review, is:
Michaeli, Ethan. The Defender: How the Legendary Black Newspaper Changed America. New York: Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, 2016.

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