The Civil Rights Congress (CRC) was a United States civil rights organization, formed in 1946 at a national conference for radicals and disbanded in 1956. It succeeded the International Labor Defense, the National Federation for Constitutional Liberties, and the National Negro Congress, serving as a defense organization. Beginning about 1948, it became involved in representing African Americans sentenced to death and other highly prominent cases, in part to highlight racial injustice in the United States. After Rosa Lee Ingram and her two teenage sons were sentenced in Georgia, the CRC conducted a national appeals campaign on their behalf, their first for African Americans.
The CRC coordinated nationally, with 60 chapters at its peak in 1950. These acted on local issues. Most were located on the East and West coasts, with only about 10 chapters in the states of the former Confederacy, five of them in Texas.
The CRC used a two-pronged strategy of litigation and demonstrations, with extensive public communications, to call attention to racial injustice in the United States. A major tactic was publicizing cases, especially in the South, such as those of Rosa Lee Ingram and her two sons in Georgia, the Martinsville Seven in Virginia, and Willie McGee in Mississippi, in which Black people had been sentenced to death; in the last two cases as a result of questionable rape charges. Given the disenfranchisement of blacks in the South at the turn of the century, all-white juries were standard, as only voters could serve.
The CRC succeeded particularly in raising international awareness about these cases, which sometimes generated protests to the president and Congress. They also represented defendants in legal appeals to overturn convictions or gain lesser sentences.At that time in the South, when cases were tried by all-white juries, some of the defense team believed that gaining a life sentence instead of capital punishment was akin to acquittal, where social pressure was high for juries to find blacks guilty. The CRC also defended political dissidents, including Communists. The group conducted high-profile protests in Washington, D.C., and at the United Nations. It brought world attention to racism in the United States by presenting the U.N. with a petition titled "We Charge Genocide," detailing the abuses of African Americans in the US, including continuing lynchings in the 1940s.
The CRC was perceived as an alternative or competitor to the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP) because it worked on similar issues in representing African Americans in legal cases and suits. The CRC believed that it embraced a wider range of issues and a larger coalition.It became involved in the defense of Rosa Lee Ingram and her sons, and Willie McGee.
In 1950, while the NAACP was working on appeals of the Martinsville Seven, who had all been convicted and sentenced to death in speedy trials, the parents of one defendant, DeSales Grayson, appealed separately to the CRC to defend their son. The NAACP contended that the organizations had different approaches; it spent more of its funds on direct defense of clients, including appeals, whereas the CRC mounted a public campaign, complete with distribution of pamphlets and advertising on billboards.
Because the CRC had attracted adverse attention from the government, with the potential to negatively affect reception of appeals in the Martinsville Seven case, the CRC withdrew from direct defense of Grayson in July 1950. But, the NAACP was unable to succeed with its appeals. All seven of the men were executed in February 1951.
During the years of the Red Scare, due to its Communist Party affiliations, the CRC was classified as subversive and described as a communist front organization by US Attorney General Thomas Clark under President Harry S. Truman, as well as by the House Committee on Un-American Activities. Targeted by the U.S. government, the group was weakened in 1951, and it finally disbanded in 1956.
The group was formed at a radical conference in Detroit held on April 27–28, 1946.Early goals included abolition of HUAC and protecting southern workers' right to unionize. In December 1947, the National Negro Congress merged into the group. International Labor Defense (ILD) national secretary William Patterson led the group throughout its existence. Frank Marshall Davis served on the organization's National Executive Board. Patterson also headed the Abraham Lincoln School in Chicago, with Davis also on the faculty and Board of Directors.
The group gained about 10,000 members at its peak.It was generally stronger on the coasts and weak in the South, but it did conduct several major campaigns to defend the legal rights of Southern Blacks. Its largest and strongest chapters in the South were in New Orleans and Miami. Altogether, the CRC founded more than 60 local chapters which sought to combat racial discrimination, racist stereotyping, and legal injustice in their communities.
The U.S. Congress and courts weakened the group with legal restrictions in 1951. In 1956, members voted to disband.
The CRC took up legal causes of those they considered unjustly accused. In addition to pursuing legal campaigns, often alongside the NAACP, the group sought to raise awareness outside the courtroom with demonstrations, propaganda, and high-profile events. As these campaigns gained popular awareness, the CRC received many letters from prisoners requesting legal assistance.
The CRC opposed the 1940 Smith Act and 1950 McCarran Act, both of which expanded government powers to prosecute domestic dissent.It generally came to the assistance of individuals targeted by HUAC, particularly the "Top Eleven" communist leaders tried in 1949 under the Smith Act.
The CRC was also active in the defense of Harry Bridges, a union organizer and leader of the California chapter of the International Longshore and Warehouse Union. The government had long sought his deportation, and Congress passed the Smith Act to provide a means to accomplish this. After Bridges became a naturalized US citizen in 1945, the government prosecuted him for perjury for having failed to acknowledge being a member of the Communist Party in his naturalization application. The conviction was overturned due to a statute of limitations in the law.
The CRC campaigned for Rosa Lee Ingram and her two teenage sons (Wallace and Sammie Lee Ingram) against a death penalty murder charge in Georgia, the first African Americans for whom they campaigned on a national level for an appeal.The Ingrams, who were sharecroppers, were accused of murdering their white neighbor, John Ethron Stratford, in 1947 over an argument about animals on his land and his sexual harassment of the mother, Rosa Lee. They had been convicted—on the basis of circumstantial testimony, with no eyewitnesses—by a jury of twelve white men after a one-day trial in January 1948. The Ingrams had no access to lawyers before the trial.
The Ingram appeal campaign was orchestrated by the Women's Committee for Equal Justice, a CRC subdivision led by the nationally known leader, Mary Church Terrell.As its predecessor, the ILD, had accomplished with the Scottsboro case, the CRC hoped to use the Ingram case to draw national and international attention to racial inequality in the United States. Pressure from the CRC and the NAACP led to a new hearing in March 1948. In this hearing, the judge denied requests for a new trial, but used his discretion to reduce the sentence from death to life in prison.
The NAACP and CRC came into occasional conflict over the case because of differing goals and strategy. By the wishes of the Ingrams, the NAACP generally handled the legal side; the CRC worked mostly on publicity. It raised $45,125 for the Ingram Defense Fund and held annual Mother's Day rallies. On 21 September 1949, Terrell led a group to the United Nations to demand that officials address the Ingram case. Little progress was made in the case, but both the NAACP and the CRC continued to support Ingram during her imprisonment.Ingram and her sons were all released on parole in 1959, cited as "model prisoners."
As in the Ingram case, both the NAACP and the CRC rallied to the cause of the Martinsville Seven— seven black men all sentenced to death in Virginia in 1949 for the rape of a white woman. Only black men received the death sentence in Virginia in rape cases.[ according to whom? ] Martin A. Martin, the chief lawyer hired by the NAACP from a major Richmond law firm, refused to work with the CRC because the government had classified the group as subversive and as a Communist front.
Again excluded from the legal process, the CRC launched a national campaign based on injustices in the cases of Martinsville Seven and Willie McGee in Mississippi. McGee was also sentenced to death for conviction of rape of a white woman. The CRC created national attention and coordinated mailing campaigns to the government in Washington, DC, but the appeals failed. The US Supreme Court refused to hear the Martinsville Seven case, and all the men were executed in February 1951. McGee was executed in May 1951.
In this period, the CRC was defending Communist officials known as the Top Eleven against prosecution under the Smith Act. This drew attention to their communist affiliation and people worried that the CRC endangered the outcome of the appeals for that reason. It withdrew from representing one of the Martinsville Seven directly.
The CRC took stances on many issues related to political freedom and the rights of African Americans. It supported anti-lynching laws,and condemned the use of the Confederate flag at many government and school facilities in the South.
It opposed U.S. intervention in the Korean War.The CRC opposed the Taft-Hartley Act and offered assistance to the Congress of Industrial Organizations and to the American Federation of Labor.
In Louisiana, a local chapter launched a major campaign to convict the white police officer who shot Roy Cyril Brooks. The Brooks case began a larger effort against police brutality and demands to hire more Black police officers in cities such as New Orleans.
In January 1949, the group held a "Freedom Crusade" in Washington, D.C., right before the re-inauguration of President Truman. Before the demonstration, the group had a public exchange with Congressperson John S. Wood. Wood accused the group of threatening "violence and riot" in the capital; the group responded that the white supremacy of the status quo "is constantly the scene of 'violence and riot' against Negro citizens."The Freedom Crusade was ultimately an orderly demonstration in which several thousand people visited elected politicians to demand action against lynching, freedom for communist leaders imprisoned for subversion (known as the Top Eleven), and implementation of the Fair Employment Practices Commission.
In 1951, the Civil Rights Congress issued its petition to the United Nations entitled "We Charge Genocide: The Crime of Government Against the Negro People".This document collected diverse instances of violence and mistreatment against African Americans, and argued that the United States government was a party to genocide in its own country. After William Patterson presented the document to the United Nations assembly in Paris, his passport was revoked by the State Department. Paul Robeson and W. E. B. Du Bois were blocked from traveling, and went to the U.N. offices in New York.
Soon after it was founded, the CRC became a target of the House Committee on Un-American Activities (HUAC) and the Internal Revenue Service.A 1947 report to HUAC charged: "Having adopted a line of militant skullduggery against the United States with the close of World War II, the Communist Party has set up the Civil Rights Congress for the purpose of protecting those of its members who run afoul of the law." The group denied these charges and provided a list of sponsors, including Representatives Adam C. Powell, Senator Glen H. Taylor, and Atlanta University President Rufus Early Clement. Patterson called the group "non-partisan" and described it as "the Red Cross of the defenders of peace, constitutional rights, justice and human rights".
The 1950 McCarran Internal Security Act increased government persecution of the group, and many of its leaders were jailed. The group's power weakened in 1951 when the federal government barred it from posting bail for communist defendants in the resulting trials.During the Second Red Scare, many Americans wary of the group because of its communist connections. In 1956, the CRC was declared a communist front by the Subversive Activities Control Board. It disbanded the same year.
The CRC was also infiltrated by the Federal Bureau of Investigation. FBI agent Matthew Cvetic, who had joined the Communist Party, testified to HUAC in 1950 that the CRC was Communist-controlled and that Patterson was a Communist. He also identified a long list of politicians as Communist, as well as celebrities and community leaders.Various other agents surfaced to testify at anti-Communist trials. Association with the Civil Rights Congress served as justification for FBI surveillance of Lena Horne and Paul Robeson. One agent later described breaking into the CRC's Chicago offices, saying "Anything that had the name 'committee' or 'congress' the FBI assumed had to be subversive."
David Brown, secretary and then chair of the Los Angeles chapter of the CRC, served as an FBI informant from 1950-1954. He disappeared in January 1955 and tried to fake his own kidnapping.Soon after, he unsuccessfully attempted suicide in a hotel room. He later said he felt ashamed and suicidal for being a "stool pigeon". He testified that his pay varied from $25/week to $250/month, and that he routinely lied to FBI contacts.
The American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) is a nonprofit organization founded in 1920 "to defend and preserve the individual rights and liberties guaranteed to every person in this country by the Constitution and laws of the United States". The ACLU works through litigation and lobbying and it has over 1,200,000 members and an annual budget of over $300 million. Local affiliates of the ACLU are active in all 50 states, the District of Columbia, and Puerto Rico. The ACLU provides legal assistance in cases when it considers civil liberties to be at risk. Legal support from the ACLU can take the form of direct legal representation or preparation of amicus curiae briefs expressing legal arguments when another law firm is already providing representation.
McCarthyism is the practice of making accusations of subversion or treason, especially when related to communism. The term refers to U.S. senator Joseph McCarthy (R-Wisconsin) and has its origins in the period in the United States known as the Second Red Scare, lasting from the late 1940s through the 1950s. It was characterized by heightened political repression and a campaign spreading fear of communist influence on American institutions and of espionage by Soviet agents. After the mid-1950s, McCarthyism began to decline, mainly due to the gradual loss of public popularity and opposition from the U.S. Supreme Court led by Chief Justice Earl Warren. The Warren Court made a series of rulings that helped bring an end to McCarthyism.
The Communist Party USA, ideologically committed to foster a socialist revolution in the United States, played a significant role in defending the civil rights of African Americans during its most influential years of the 1930s and 1940s. In that period, the African-American population was still concentrated in the South, where it was largely disenfranchised, excluded from the political system, and oppressed under Jim Crow laws.
The American Crusade Against Lynching (ACAL) was an organization created in 1946 and headed by Paul Robeson, dedicated to eliminating lynching in the United States. A strong advocate of the Civil Rights Movement, Robeson believed "a fraternity must be established in which success and achievement are recognized and those deserving receive the respect, honor and dignity due them." In his speech "The New Idealism", delivered as a Rutgers College valedictory address, Robeson supported the idea that all – both colored and white people – need to take part in the creation of the new "American Idealism"; which led to the development of the American Crusade Against Lynching.
We Charge Genocide: The Crime of Government Against the Negro People is a paper accusing the United States government of genocide based on the UN Genocide Convention. This paper was written by the Civil Rights Congress (CRC) and presented to the United Nations at meetings in Paris in December 1951.
The Trenton Six is the group name for six African-American defendants tried for murder of an elderly white shopkeeper in January 1948 in Trenton, New Jersey. The six young men were convicted in August 1948 by an all-white jury of the murder and sentenced to death.
Harry Tyson Moore was an African-American educator, a pioneer leader of the civil rights movement, founder of the first branch of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP) in Brevard County, Florida, and president of the state chapter of the NAACP.
President Harry S. Truman signed United States Executive Order 9835, sometimes known as the "Loyalty Order", on March 21, 1947. The order established the first general loyalty program in the United States, designed to root out communist influence in the U.S. federal government. Truman aimed to rally public opinion behind his Cold War policies with investigations conducted under its authority. He also hoped to quiet right-wing critics who accused Democrats of being soft on communism. At the same time, he advised the Loyalty Review Board to limit the role of the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) to avoid a witch hunt. The program investigated over 3 million government employees, just over 300 of whom were dismissed as security risks.
Willie McGee was an African American man from Laurel, Mississippi, who was sentenced to death in 1945 and executed on Tuesday, May 8, 1951, for alleged rape of a woman on November 2, 1945. McGee's legal case became a cause célèbre that attracted worldwide attention, as it was roundly decried as a miscarriage of justice in the Jim Crow south.
The second inauguration of Harry S. Truman as President of the United States was held on Thursday, January 20, 1949, at the East Portico of the United States Capitol in Washington, D.C. This was the 41st inauguration and marked the commencement of the second and only full term of Harry S. Truman as President as well as the only term of Alben W. Barkley as Vice President. Chief Justice Fred M. Vinson administered the presidential oath of office while Justice Stanley Forman Reed administered the vice-presidential oath of office.
Manning Rudolph Johnson AKA Manning Johnson and Manning R. Johnson was a Communist Party USA African-American leader and the party's candidate for U.S. Representative from New York's 22nd congressional district during a special election in 1935. He later left the Party and became a government informant and witness.
The National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP) is a civil rights organization in the United States, formed in 1909 as an interracial endeavor to advance justice for African Americans by a group including W. E. B. Du Bois, Mary White Ovington, Moorfield Storey and Ida B. Wells.
The Smith Act trials of Communist Party leaders in New York City from 1949 to 1958 were the result of US federal government prosecutions in the postwar period and during the Cold War between the Soviet Union and the United States. Leaders of the Communist Party of the United States (CPUSA) were accused of violating the Smith Act, a statute that prohibited advocating violent overthrow of the government. The defendants argued that they advocated a peaceful transition to socialism, and that the First Amendment's guarantee of freedom of speech and of association protected their membership in a political party. Appeals from these trials reached the US Supreme Court, which ruled on issues in Dennis v. United States (1951) and Yates v. United States (1957).
The Martinsville Seven were a group of seven African-American men from Martinsville, Virginia, who were convicted and executed in 1951 for raping a white woman in 1949. At the time of their arrest, all but one were between the ages of 18 and 23. They were quickly tried in six separate trials, and each was convicted and sentenced to death. It was the largest mass execution for rape that had been reported in the United States. According to historian Eric W. Rise, this case "demonstrated the power of the southern legal system to enforce codes of racial behavior."
Council for United Civil Rights Leadership (CUCRL) was an umbrella group formed in June 1963 to organize and regulate the Civil Rights Movement. The Council brought leaders of Black civil rights organizations together with white donors in business and philanthropy. It successfully arranged the August 1963 March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom with the Kennedy administration.
The International Labor Defense (ILD) (1925–1947) was a legal advocacy organization established in 1925 in the United States as the American section of the Comintern's International Red Aid network. The ILD defended Sacco and Vanzetti, was active in the anti-lynching, movements for civil rights, and prominently participated in the defense and legal appeals in the cause célèbre of the Scottsboro Boys in the early 1930s. Its work contributed to the appeal of the Communist Party among African Americans in the South. In addition to fundraising for defense and assisting in defense strategies, from January 1926 it published Labor Defender, a monthly illustrated magazine that achieved wide circulation. In 1946 the ILD was merged with the National Federation for Constitutional Liberties to form the Civil Rights Congress, which served as the new legal defense organization of the Communist Party USA. It intended to expand its appeal, especially to African Americans in the South. In several prominent cases in which blacks had been sentenced to death in the South, the CRC campaigned on behalf of black defendants. It had some conflict with former allies, such as the NAACP, and became increasingly isolated. Because of federal government pressure against organizations it considered subversive, such as the CRC, it became less useful in representing defendants in criminal justice cases. The CRC was dissolved in 1956. At the same time, in this period, black leaders were expanding the activities and reach of the Civil Rights Movement. In 1954, in a case managed by the NAACP, the US Supreme Court ruled in Brown v. Board of Education that segregation of public schools was unconstitutional.
Rosa Lee Ingram was an African American sharecropper and widowed mother of 12 children, who was at the center of one of the most explosive capital punishment cases in U.S. history. In the 1940s, she became an icon for the civil rights and social justice movement.
Martin Armstrong Martin was an American criminal and civil rights attorney from Danville, Virginia who became the first African American trial attorney in the United States Department of Justice on May 31, 1943. He also became known for his appellate work for Odell Waller in 1942 and the Martinsville Seven in 1950-1951, and as a partner with Oliver Hill and future federal judge Spottswood Robinson in a law firm which assisted the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People in civil rights litigation in Virginia.
The International Juridical Association was an association of socially minded American lawyers, established by Carol Weiss King and considered by the U.S. federal government as "another early (communist) front for lawyers. The principal concern about the IJA was that it "constituted itself an agent of a foreign principal hostile to the interests of the United States."
Joseph Forer (1910–1986) was a 20th-Century American attorney who, with partner David Rein, supported Progressive causes including discriminated communists and African-Americans. Forer was one of the founders o the National Lawyers Guild and its DC chapter. He was also an expert in the "Lost Laws" of Washington, DC, enacted in 1872–1873, that outlawed segregation at business places.