Fund-Raising Letter for National Committee for Justice in Columbia, Tennessee

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Fund-Raising Letter for National Committee for Justice in Columbia, Tennessee

29 May 1946 [New York City]

Dear Friend:

Thirty-one Negro citizens of Columbia, Tennessee are under arrest, charged with crimes ranging from attempted murder in the first degree to carrying concealed weapons. Two other Negro prisoners have been killed, shot down in the Columbia jail by officers of the law.

These men, more than half of their number recently discharged servicemen, have been the innocent victims of race hatred and violence. The events which took place in Columbia on February 25th and 26th rose out of a dispute between a white shopkeeper and a Negro customer. They culminated in lynch threats, an armed invasion of the Negro district, wanton destruction of Negro property and wholesale arrests and beatings of Negro citizens. The enclosed pamphlet, "Terror in Tennessee," adequately describes this series of outrages.2

Our Committee was formed to provide every possible safeguard to those Negroes unjustly charged with crimes and to assure them the justice denied them by sworn officers of the law in Tennessee. We shall work with the legal staff of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People in providing adequate legal defense to the victims. We will work to assure that those responsible for this bloodshed and mockery of the law be tried for the real crimes committed. We shall attempt, so far as it lies within our power, to provide reparations for the damage occasioned Negro businessmen and householders by brutal mob action. Finally and above all, we will tell the people this story of injustice and race hatred at Columbia so that Americans may take measures to guard against a repetition of this tragic situation in their own communities.

Please help us to win these objectives through your generous contribution. Every dollar you give will help to assure simple justice to humble men who today stand charged with crime while the real criminals are free. We want an America where every man, Negro or white, may stand on the same footing before the law. Help us to achieve that.

                                       Sincerely yours,

                       Eleanor Roosevelt        Channing H. Tobias

PS. This Committee represents a joint effort on the part of all organizations and individuals working to secure justice for the defendants in Columbia. If you have received and responded to a previous appeal in connection with this case, please pass this letter on to a friend.

TLS AERP, FDRL

1. Memo on Fund Raising, NAACP, DL. For information on the formation of the NCJCT, see n1 and n4 Document 105 and Document 102.

2. The NAACP published "Terror in Tennessee" as a response to press accounts placing the blame solely on African Americans. The pamphlet's dramatic depiction of events provoked immediate controversy. For example, countering the image of armed African Americans sniping from roof tops as white troops tried to restore order common in most coverage, "Terror in Tennessee" describes the Highway Patrol's entrance into Bottom as follows:

Zero hour was at dawn on Tuesday morning. State patrolmen and guardsmen in full battle dress, armed with tommy-guns, automatic rifles and machine-guns, lay down a barrage, battle fashion. After a few minutes during which volley after volley crashed into the pitiful, wooden walls of the beleaguered houses, the small army began to advance into the smoke-filled area. Machine-gun bullets whipped into the windows and doors of the silent buildings. Walls disintegrated in the face of the hot machine-gun blasts. Inside their homes Negro citizens—men, women and children—lay flattened against their quivering floors" ("Terror in Tennessee," MMBP, DcWaMMD).

On April 29, 1946, Judge Elmer Davies, presiding over the federal grand jury responsible for investigating civil rights violations in Columbia, adjourned the jury and asked the FBI to investigate the publishers of "false-hoods and half-truths," referring to pamphlets circulated by a variety of organizations including the NAACP and the Communist Party. The grand jury's report of June 14 attributed "malicious intent and desire to incite racial discord" to those who circulated pamphlets. The report also reveals the jury's "regret" that "the mailing of such pamphlets does not constitute a violation of any Federal Statute" (O'Brien, 38-39; Report of Grand Jury in the Matter of the Racial Disturbance at Columbia, Tennessee, AERP).

While refusing to distance itself from the pamphlet's contents, at its July meeting, the National Committee for Justice in Columbia, Tennessee considered reprinting two Washington Post articles written by Agnes Meyer for inclusion with future fund-raising letters in place of "Terror in Tennessee" (Memo on Fund Raising, NAACP, DLC).

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