Injustice May be Around the Corner Again
World War I created grave problems for African Americans. African Americans became the main target of police power in that thousands of blacks refused to serve in the war that many saw as an “imperialist” war of aggression. African Americans refused to be inducted in record numbers and became the target of intelligence gathering agencies; the post office, and the Justice Department. The Woodrow Wilson administration was determined to discover and punish African Americans for what the administration described as being “disloyal.” During WWI, federal and state governments demanded that everyone get on board in a war that was based on carving up the world amongst the Western powers. The demand that everyone stand and salute the flag in one form or another is a modern day issue of the First Amendment. During WWI, the First Amendment was sabotaged, something conservatives are trying to do today.
Approval of suppression of civil liberties, especially the First Amendment concerning free speech, was curtailed and laws developed to railroad people to jail that did not agree with the war effort during the First World War. The government was quick to indict people that were suspected of “disloyalty.”“Disloyalty” was a charge that was broadly defined so as to provide a wide net to indict, arrest, and prosecute people that the government considered disloyal. Individuals were encouraged to spy on others and to provide “tips” and infiltrate meetings and report them to the Bureau of Investigation, as the FBI was known at the time. Germans were automatically on the “watch list,” and African Americans were as well since black folks were not about to sit around and be told to go to the back of the buss and be expected to fight for America at the same time.
W.E.B. DuBois was a target as was the NAACP at that time. The Bureau of Investigation investigated the NAACP and the Crisis magazine (the official magazine of the NAACP) in 1917, and claimed that the organization was working underhandedly with the Germans. Southern racists often claimed that blacks were happy being treated like trash and that it was “outside agitators,” like the Germans that were supposedly causing blacks to become militant. This baloney was often believed by the ignorant. The “outside agitator” argument has been used for decades, and was even used by segregationist Mayor Walter McAllister in 1969 in a foolish attempt to impugn the San Antonio SNCC chapter before city council. McAllister claimed that it was “outside agitators” that were complaining about police abuse in San Antonio when in fact all of the SNCC members were San Antonio natives. It was no different in 1917.
It was during this time that the U.S Post Office refused to mail NAACP literature. Some postal officials even went so far as to tear up or throw away NAACP material before it could ever reach subscribers. In 1918, government officials began to attack the Crisis magazine claiming it was too confrontational in its attacks against lynching, racism, and segregation. In the April 1918 issue of the Crisis magazine, there was a picture of a Houston public park with a sign that said, “Negroes Keep Out.” This Crisis issue went on to question the issue of why black people should be fighting for freedom in Europe when they had no freedom in America. The government was able to sabotage the First Amendment with a Supreme Court ruling making such articles a violation of the wartime Sedition Act.
The federal government attacked the Chicago Defender, a leading black newspaper, as “The most dangerous of all Negro Journals.” Probably no one suffered as much as the editor of the black newspaper the San Antonio Inquirer. G.W. Bouldin would be arrested for printing an article that condemned the kangaroo court at Ft Sam Houston that condemned 13 black soldiers to execution on the Salado Creek for trying to protect a black woman from racist Houston police. Bouldin was accused of violating the Espionage Act along with William L. Hegwood, a notable African American leader in San Antonio.
Bouldin’s trial took place in December of 1917, but was freed on bond until January of 1919. In a racist courtroom, conducted by a racist judge
named DuVal West, Bouldin was found guilty and sentenced to two years in Leavenworth penitentiary. Blacks across the nation would be jailed under the Sedition Act, or the Espionage Act, when no sedition or espionage was taking place. The government wanted everyone to be loyal to a war that was for freedom everywhere else except for black people, brown people, and Native Americans. This is the history that they want us to ignore. I wonder what kind of dictatorial actions Donald Trump has in mind? Injustice may be around the corner again! We better be vigilant.