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A TURNING POINTHoward Fast
WE have just come through a strange and trying period here in America -- a period which indicates a most basic and consequential turning point in the tactics of the Truman government. I refer to the legal murder of the seven Negroes of Martinsville, Virginia. That these men were innocent goes without saying. We have more than abundant evidence of their innocence. But that can also be said of most of the Negroes who have been put to death in our South over the past 300 years. More important than the simple fact of their innocence is the nature of the struggle in which we engaged in their defence. The struggle was an international one as you know. Demonstrations were held in almost every country on the face of the earth. And here in America possibly as many as a million telegrams were sent to the White House and to the Governor of Virginia. Death vigils marched in freezing weather day and night in Richmond, in Washington, in Chicago, in New York City. My fellow writers and myself led one of these vigils that marched in front of the White House for six long, bitterly cold days.
The terrible thing to reflect on is that none of this action moved the Truman government one iota. The decision had been made to execute these Negroes as a warning to all other Negroes that the opposition of the Negro people to the war in Korea would not be tolerated. It was also a warning implicit to the white progressives in America -- that the price for the struggle for peace from here on would be death. This is the first time that the Truman government has engaged in that time-tested Nazi practice, the symbolic killing of the innocent to intimidate the opposition. It is something we must think about. It is also something that decent people all over the earth must think about gravely and profoundly.
The present proceedings against Dr. W. E. B. Du Bois flow directly from this. In one breath the government, even before the bodies of the Martinsville Negroes are cold in their graves, announces the 20th of March as the date for the execution of the innocent Willie McGee, sets forth on a new trial of the six Trenton Negroes, and indicts Dr. Du Bois as a foreign agent.
Of all the acts of this unholy Truman-Acheson combine, the indictment of Dr. Du Bois is perhaps the most frightening and the most unexpected. It has been correctly characterized as a movement without precedent in all American history. Not only is Dr. Du Bois 83 years old and a man who has devoted all his long and rich life to the struggle for his people and for American democracy, but he is without question the dean of American scholarship. To put it briefly, he is a great and noble human being, and there are very few like him in the whole world. He is such a man as any country which retains any of the elements of sanity and decency would treasure and revere; but the Truman government has reverence only for atomic death. Its action against Dr. Du Bois is tantamount to a death sentence since no one at his age could survive the rigours of a trial and five years' imprisonment.
But in another way the action should not surprise us. It is part of the pattern which these same people have imposed upon Korea, where a desert of rubble, ashes and blood defines democracy according to the Truman government.