Approximately a Preface

In a regular book, this chapter would probably be called the Preface. But nobody reads a preface, and I swore when I started writing that I would have none. So this is Chapter I.

Anyone who writes a book should take the reader into his confidence and tell what he is talking about. There are some authors who write five or six hundred pages of erudite circumlocution [footnote: Should you not understand the meaning of the above word, you thereby get my meaning exactly.], and by the time you wade through it you have forgotten what it's all about—and by whom.

My purpose is to tell an ordinary story of an ordinary man with ordinary ideas, hoping to solve at least a few elementary problems. I want to write a story not so much of myself as of us, of the various emotions and longings that are common to us all. Some of us have lived in poverty, some of us have gotten too fat, some too thin. We are all in the same boat. We all want to reach the shore. We all want to live with some liberty, in ordinary comfort in a world free of war and violence.

I have had some spectacular experiences, and if I were a novelist I could paint them up a little and make a dramatic story. But we all have adventures, and your adventures have no doubt been quite as spectacular as mine. So I will not consciously attempt to tell anything spectacular or bold; at least, there will be no varnish or fancy paint.

In this book there will be no breath-taking suspense; in fact, I will try to inform you in advance of what I am talking about. Although all that I write about is deeply personal and authentic, it is not an autobiography. If it is, it is the autobiography of America, and I hope a story of America to come. Or a story of any individual who wants to be free, and wants others to be free, too.

Sticking closely to one form or another, with treatises, dissertations, statistics, bores me. It bores you, too. A great American who died last year wrote a book which everyone says is one of the finest ever written. But he starts out with being born, tells all about his father's store in California, about his pet horse, and the last time I knew anything about him he was about fifteen years of age. I just stopped reading. I never got to the part about political battles and municipal corruption. I never heard of him again until just before his death, when he wrote me a letter asking me to sign a petition to get McNamara, the dynamiter, out of the penitentiary in California, which I did.

In this nation we have wasted and destroyed; we have been physically brave, quite often intellectually cowardly, and have done foolish things which we as a nation must stop doing. Though I shall talk about my experiences as a Congressman in Washington, as a speaker, soldier, an amateur and very inefficient hobo, a lumberman, a worker, politician, a school boy—yet it will be of the land, our country, and the blood and bones that make it.

As I told you, I expect to give you advance warning of what I am talking about; then I will explain it, and then I will explain what I have said over again. That's no reflection on your intelligence, but it's my way.

And yes, I got help in writing this book. But I wrote every word of it, lived it, and experienced what I am saying. Pretty nearly every department in the Government and many individuals have helped me no end. The employees of the Library of Congress have all worked like Trojans.

Take the Congressional Library. I had thought I could write a book without too much research, since it is not to be a professorial volume. I thought, for instance, that I would never forget a single character of Alice in Wonderland; thinking vaguely of the Cheshire Cat and all those strange characters, I 'phone Mr. Slade, and bellow at this shy soul: "Who were the main characters in Alice and Wonderland, and what was the story of Tweedledee and Tweedledum?"

Mr. Slade, reference librarian, who ought to have a head as big as the Capitol to hold all the information he has in it, hesitates. But it is all a philosopher's fake, for reference librarian that he is, he knows the answers in the first place.

But I shout: "Come on, Mr. Slade, what the hell are you stalling about?"

And Mr. Slade, who knows I am not insulting him, loves this rough treatment as he hides in his stacks and corners, and reels off the answers as though he had swallowed any book you name the day before. For indeed, it is a happy friendship I have with this fellow; he knows that my bellowing, like his pretense of ignorance, are kindly shams and frauds that bind us together.

Then over there is Dr. Schulz, who can correctly state just what the Supreme Court of Babylon did in the year of 2000, or possibly 4500 B.C., whenever it was. Or he can tell you what the Legislature of Maine said about the Dred Scott decision. So, I freely admit, I got everybody's help, ranging from policemen and gas station operators up to—I almost said the Supreme Court. Yes, everybody helped me, man, woman, and child, except the other Nine Human Beings who sit upon the High Bench.

My main brain-truster is Leon Pearson, who works for his brother Drew of the Washington Merry-Go-Round. Leon is a Quaker, and is supposed to have a peaceful disposition. Sometimes he has—but he reads proof, tells me that such and such a paragraph is vague, and a terrible bore. Then I must go back and re-write it.

There is another Leon, too. Leon Henderson, who was chief economist in the NRA, and who knows more about that, and Hugh Johnson, than any man on earth. He should write a book, and I am sure you would like it. But he has done a lot of work for me, and here's his pay, in ink.

This book has me in it, but it mostly has others. Traveling over the face of this Republic, I have lived with the CCC boys, have visited down in the bottom of greasy and black engine rooms—have even attended Chamber of Commerce affairs. I have gotten myself stuck in the wintry mud of soil-conservation projects. H. H. Bennett, chief of the Soil Conservation Service, who has all the earmarks of a modern Savonarola, and who battles to save the soil with an additional touch of Don Quixote and the efficiency and cold-bloodedness of a Henry Ford, has turned his nation-wide department loose to help me, and his people have done it. Out in the New Mexico-Arizona country his Bill McGinnies, formerly Dr. William Albert McGinnies, A.B., A.M., Ph.D., came along with me and Cy Fryer, Big White Chief of all the far-flung empire of the Navajos, and showed me the tragedy of a broken race and a land dead and bleeding; from them I received information to write a chapter, which you will come to if you read long enough, entitled "Fifty Thousand Redskins Bite the Dust." Dr. W. W. Alexander, head of the Resettlement Administration, who knows more about poor white Southerners and poor black Southerners than anybody who lives and breathes, has shown me things of my own South I should long ago have known. He has loaded me down with statistics that would break the back of a horse made of steel. His Mr. Mercey and Mr. Dreir have worked with me like brothers. I have been in Resettlement's Green Belt Towns, here, there, and everywhere. Barnes, Hall, Brown, of the Soil Conservation Service, have shown me this and that, and have helped along.

Another young fellow, Dave Lloyd, Jr., who is bright as a dollar, and who is now doing good work with the LaFollette Civil Liberties Committee, has helped a lot. I mention him as a new type of young American working faithfully day and night for his government. There are many like him in Washington, and in government service all over the nation.

So, after all, this is a preface, with all these names. But I had not intended it to be; I only wanted to mention a few friends.

But the drums are rolling, and it is time to start. It is time for the mavericks of America to assemble on the steps of the Capitol.



A Southern Congressman

I get elected to Congress.

Now, I stand for certain elementary principles such as Liberty of Speech and Liberty of Religion, and people seem to be surprised about it. I see nothing strange about a Texan and a Southerner standing for simple rights, and being what is called a "liberal" or a "progressive." Especially when the New Yorker who expresses surprise generally does not even know the name of his own congressman or assemblyman.

All this perplexes me.

Then I have people tell me that I am broadminded. I am not. I am wondering by whom these mental qualifications should be judged—by me, by certain set rules, or by the people of New York City, San Francisco, or Memphis. What is broadmindedness?

Which makes me wander again. If anybody writes a book, he ought to be writing about something. So let us get our minds straight before we go on.

I think the most important thing for us to possess as a people is liberty, which later on I hope to define. So, since this is the most important, we will talk of it right here, and then in other chapters I will expand upon liberty in all its phases, get myself born and tell you some stories.

I am a Southerner, because I live in that portion of the United States. More than likely I am possessed of all the prejudices that a "gentleman and a Southerner" is supposed to have. I do not hate colored people; neither do I claim greater knowledge of them than Yankees, nor sentimental love for them. I do not despise people on account of race; but in order that my brethren in New York may be satisfied, let us say that I hate Negroes, which I do not, and that negroes should be shot, lynched, and deprived of their economic and civil rights.

At the national Capitol one day a large delegation came down from New York, representing the League Against War and Fascism. I finally left the House floor and went out to see them, because it happened that although the delegation was from New York City, there was but one Congressman from their whole state who might have come out and spoken to them, and he was away.

I hove on the scene with my Nordic blonde curls [footnote: Since the above was written, I am told that my hair is dark brown, and a Greek tells me my ancestors were Hellenes—well, I had always thought I was a Nordic blonde.], and Southern prejudices. I saw dark hair, some Semitic features—and something I had never seen before—a mixed delegation—Whites and Negroes.

I was asked to make a speech, right out on the Capitol steps. I started, but was not allowed to talk for over a minute or two.

Someone heckled me and demanded, in a sarcastic voice, to know something about "Southern Justice," hissing out the "S" like a stage villain.

I was sore. So I shot, "Where were Sacco and Vanzetti tried? In Alabama? In what prison do we find Tom Mooney? The Texas Penitentiary?" I gave tongue to a long list of civil liberty violations all over America, for I am a member of the American Civil Liberties Union and happened to have just read the list of violations.

As I looked over my crowd of Manhattanites, I realized that when they spoke of "Southern Justice" they were quite certain that the most terrible place on earth was the South. Like most New Yorkers, they did not see the forest for the trees. They were unaware of the multitude of abuses in their own insignificant island. I knew also that when they spoke of "Southern Justice" they meant the Scottsboro Case. Now, this case is neither better nor worse than other persecutions, mistrials, or violations of civil liberties in other parts of the country. The fact that the boys are black is no excuse, but certainly the legal conduct of the case has been fairer than that of Sacco and Vanzetti. One is racial, the other was industrial prejudice; no doubt the background of both is economic.

I now lectured my New Yorkers. I told them that in the South people were neither more nor less narrow-minded than they were in the East or West or in the North. I told them that I was sick of this business of New York City pretending to have all the intelligence and wisdom in the country; it was bad for us down South, and bad for those up North. The pacifists and anti-Fascists seemed very subdued and they listened quietly.

This gave me courage. So I proceeded to a point. I told them that the Bill of Rights was for all the people of the United States; that civil, religious and other liberties were supposed to be for everybody in the United States but that they were not being maintained anywhere in the Union. As I enlarged on my subject, I realized that I was developing an important truth, and unfolding a story which was as dear to my heart as it was true.

And there I came, by conversation back and forth, in contact with the Manhattan mind. Book-words were used, but they had no substance or sense. I was later to realize this more fully in attending meetings in New York, where words, sentences, whole paragraphs were thrown at audiences which meant nothing to the listeners, nor to the speaker himself . . . "proletarian ideology" . . . "economic determinism" . . . "crisis symptomology" . . . "the class struggle" . . . "fronts" (of all kinds) . . . these, I tell you, American people do not understand, and do not like. This kind of talk is a stumbling block in the path of anything progressive or sensible.

I told them, and I think I told them the truth, that one of the narrowest places on earth is New York. At least, I said, the South is no worse, and no better. You talk of share-croppers in Arkansas. What about your starving industrial piece-workers of New York? You worry about the Negroes of the South. What about the Negroes of Harlem, and the poor whites of the whole island?

There is likely more sectional prejudice in Manhattan than there is in the South.
The whole country is about the same; the exploiting groups teach us to hate and distrust each other, so that this exploitation may continue. South: dog-eat-dog, share-cropper kick "nigger," so the top dog can skim the lickins around the edge of the dollar-pot. North: Union against Union; farmers' organization against farmers' organization; fight the foreigner—all for the benefit of the dear old industrialist.
What are we to do? Obviously, our democratic liberties must be preserved, not just in New York or Arkansas, but in the Imperial Valley, Georgia, New Jersey, Colorado. . . .

I was thinking the other day: "When we had prohibition, we had the Volstead Act, with a horde of officers to enforce an un-right. Why not have an act to enforce and protect the fundamental liberties, civil and religious? Why not protect the constitutional rights of travel, speech, press, assemblage, freedom from unreasonable search?"

Let us take the various proposed anti-lynching laws. They are always approached in the slip-shod manner of degraded politics—catering to the Negro vote; chief advocates are the sentimentalists, and the few who are left in the East who are still marching on Harper's Ferry, book-singing their inhibitions away, evading their local duties and fighting a foe they will never have to meet. And since the approach is made that way, their defeat is encompassed the same way; by the opposite emotions: magnolia blossoms, the virtue of womanhood, economic prejudice, Jackson was a great general, and a lot of bunk about state's rights. . . .

It is apparent that an act must be made to cover the whole subject of constitutional civil liberties. It should guarantee that no man, White or Negro, shall be lynched, or beaten to death by rangers, local police, sheriffs or "special officers." And we must have not merely a regional or state interpretation of the Constitution, but a national one. A right is a right, whether that citizen is blue, green, lavender, or even yellow.

In the history of constitutions, rights have been stated affirmatively. The 18th Amendment was the first constitutional change which took away a right and made a negative statement. In any event, it was part of the Constitution, and a law was passed in pursuance of it, to enforce this single part of the Constitution. Hundreds of other rights are not covered by statutes, but the courts are supposed to protect them under the Constitution.
Hence it would appear that a statute should be enacted, setting up the machinery to enforce ordinary civil rights; such as travel, life, liberty, free speech, religion, assembly and press. Naturally, since all these rights proceed from the Federal Constitution, the set-up should be Federal and would be for the benefit of the Negro likely to be lynched in the South or the lettuce worker likely to be lynched in California—or to protect anybody who wants to preach, pray, talk, write, or move anywhere in the United States of America.
The grave necessity for all this is so deep that we can hardly realize it. I shall not use the old cliche that we are at the crossroads—but it is certain that with our ideas on government still wearing the frock coats of 1880, while our scientific achievements are ten thousand years ahead, there is every danger that civilization may crack completely.

Which means that we must hold back violence long enough to talk things out; possibly we can then make some fair solutions. If we do not, we fight each other to the death.

I want to make it plain that freedom of the intellect is essential to any civilization. In this I am not talking about the freedom to starve, or the freedom to be unemployed—all that is in the realm of economics. I am talking about the mind and the soul.