The massacre of parishioners and their pastor in an historic African-American church in Charleston, SC, is just the most recent example of growing racist terror in this country. It brings to mind the bombing of the 16th Street Baptist Church in Birmingham, AL, in 1963. Then, grown men planted a bomb that killed four young girls in Sunday school. Now, a rabidly racist boy, wearing the insignia of apartheid South Africa, has murdered nine adults.
Between Birmingham and Charleston, there have been countless racist killings of young black and Hispanic men and women in New York, Ferguson, MO, Cleveland, LA, Florida, Detroit, Texas, Baltimore, and beyond. Dating back at least to the murder of Trayvon Martin, the victims have been killed either by police or racist civilians. We are not seeing an aberration—the actions of “bad apple” cops or “crazed gunmen.” Rather, we are seeing a revival of racist lynchings, the 21st-century version of “Strange Fruit,” which Billie Holiday recorded in the 1950’s as a commentary on black men hanged by violent white mobs.
Jim Crow and racist violence have been pushed back before by a movement of working people and youth, in the streets, offices, schools, and communities. We cannot stand by and wring our hands. We have to figure out a way to make the NWU and other unions a positive force in the fight to end this growing reign of terror, just as we stepped up to organize during the last Civil Rights movement. Think what it would mean if transit workers in the major cities or auto workers in GM, Ford, and Chrysler, walked off the job in a one-day national strike to end racist terror.
As modest as our effort may be, we will create a proposal to take action against these killings when our National Executive Committee meets next week. I also urge every NWU member to organize your friends and colleagues to take part in any national actions that are called. Let’s do our best to be our best.