I work for the R. J. Reynolds Tobacco Co. in Winston-Salem, N.C. I want to say a few words on this resolution for the reason that I come from the South and I live in the South. I live where men are lynched and the people that lynch them are still free.
The Taft Hartley Bill to Local 22 in Winston-Salem is an old, old story. The Taft Hartley Bill was put before the workers in Winston Salem about four years ago, when the CIO came to Winston Salem to organize the unorganized workers in the R. J. Reynolds Tobacco plant. We were faced at that time with a lot of court actions. They tried to put fear into the hearts of the working men in Winston-Salem.
One of the things in the Constitution of the United States is a guarantee to a human being, regardless of his race, creed or color, of freedom from fear. When men are lynched and when men try to strike and walk the picket line, the only weapons that the workers in America, especially in the South, have to protect themselves is action. When they are put in jail, they must protect themselves. If that is the protection of democracy in the United States of America I say it is not enough.
Too long have the Negro people of the South and other workers in America heard a lot of words read to them. It is time for action and I am now wondering if the CIO is going to stop and do some of the things [in this resolution] by action. You talk about political action and you talk about politics. How can there be any action when the Negroes in the South are not allowed to vote? Too long have the workers in the South stopped and looked to Congress for protection. We no longer look to the government in Washington for protection. It has failed. Today, we are looking for an organization that says they are organized to fight for the freedom of all men regardless of race, creed or color, and that is the CIO.
To the Negro workers in Winston-Salem it means a great deal. They told us, “You cannot vote for this and you cannot vote for that.” But last May in the city of Winston-Salem the Negro and white workers, based on a program of unity, were able to put in their city government two labor men. I am proud to say one of those was a Negro. The other was a white labor leader. We are faced today with this word that they call “democracy.” I want to say to this convention let us stop playing around. Each and every one of you here today represents thousands and thousands of the rank and file workers in the plants who today are looking for you to come back to them and give them something to look forward to: not words, but action.
We want people to walk the picket lines free and unafraid and know that they are working for their freedom and their liberty. When you speak about this protection of democracy, it is more than just words. If you have got to go back to your home town and call a meeting of the rank and file workers and say, “This is what we adopted in the convention, now we want to put it into action,” if you don’t know how to put it into action, ask the rank and file workers. Ask the people who are suffering and together you will come out with a good program where civil rights will be something to be proud of.
When you say “protection of democracy” in your last convention, along with it you can say we have done this or that. The people that lynch Negroes in the South, the people that burn crosses in the South, the people who put men in jail because they wanted 10 or 20 cents an hour wage increase will learn that the workers can walk as free men because we have done something in action.
One thing more. I have looked over this delegation and I wonder if you cherish the word “democracy.” I say to you it means something to be free. It means a great deal. I do not think you have ever read or have ever heard of a Negro man or a Negro woman that has ever been a traitor to the United States of America. They can lynch us. They can beat us. They can do anything they want to, but the Negroes of America who have always been true to the American flag, will always march forward. We are just asking your help. We are not asking for charity. We do not want charity. We belong to America.
Moranda Smith (1915–1950), of Winston-Salem, N.C., was a union organizer and rank-and-file leader of tobacco workers in North Carolina. The first African-American woman to sit on an international union’s executive board, she initiated a challenge to the racial discrimination, disfranchisement and economic exploitation of workers in the South. Her life marks the development of an integrated, civil rights–focused tradition of unionism in America. Above is an edited version of her address at the Congress of Industrial Organizations’s national convention in Boston in 1947.