When his activist wife criticized FDR for not addressing the plight of blacks, the president always stated that to do so would lose him crucial Southern Congressional support for his New Deal measures.
A perfect case in point for Roosevelt’s dilemma was personified by Congressman John E. Rankin of Mississippi. Rankin, who served for sixteen terms, from 1920-1952, was proof one could be both economically liberal and virulently racist; and his “Yellow Dog Democrat” constituency, who swore never to vote for Republicans because of Reconstruction, reflected both of Rankin’s political tendencies.
Economically, Rankin was highly supportive of the New Deal. He co-authored the bill creating and implementing the Tennessee Valley Authority, which brought money and jobs to his dirt poor constituency and strongly supported Roosevelt’s Rural Electrification Administration, which brought electricity to the rural poor.
But as with Lincoln’s Vice President and successor, Andrew Johnson, Rankin’s economic liberalism was for “whites only.” He was a strong opponent of racial integration and was a consistent nay vote on civil rights legislation. His price for supporting the G.I. Bill of Rights was for the funding to be decentralized, and this assured that in Mississipi’s racist state government only white veterans would receive the benefits.
He proposed bills to prohibit interracial marriage, and was instrumental in denying federal benefits to African Americans, as in the case of the U.S. Navy in 1944 asking Congress to give $5,000 to the families of dead black sailors, he was able to get the amount significantly reduced to $3,000 per family.
On the more lethal practices of the South, Rankin opposed bills making lynching a federal crime throughout the 1920s, arguing that such bills fostered black on white rapes, and would result in the destruction of “the white man’s civilization throughout the world.”
The passage of twenty years did nothing to reduce his racism. During World War II, Rankin always blamed any military losses suffered by the U.S. Army on cowardly blacks.
Rankin frequently used the term “n-word” on the floor of the House. When racist white anticommunists attacked audience members who attended the concert of the African-American and pro-Communist singer Paul Robeson, Rankin, before his colleagues, attacked Robeson as “that nigger Communist.”
Even when Southern Democrats tried to defend Rankin’s outbursts, in one case telling the outraged members of Congress, that Rankin had actually said “Negro” rather than “nigger,” Rankin screamed, “I said Niggra! Just as I have said since I have been able to talk and shall continue to say.”
One of the founders of the House Committee on Un-American Activities, Rankin refused to investigate the Ku Klux Klan because they were “an old American institution.”
But Rankin didn’t confine his racism to blacks. He was as feverish concerning the Jews as he was blacks, and saw the Jews with the same goal as his hated negroes: to destroy white Christian people world-wide.
“[Jews] whine about discrimination. Do you know who is being discriminated against? The white Christian people of America, the ones who created this nation … I am talking about the white Christian people of the North as well as the South … Communism is racial. A racial minority seized control in Russia and in all her satellite countries, such as Poland, Czechoslovakia, and many other countries I could name. They have been run out of practically every country in Europe in the years gone by, and if they keep stirring race trouble in this country and trying to force their communistic program on the Christian people of America, there is no telling what will happen to them here.”
As with his denunciations of blacks, Rankin used racist terms on the floor of Congress, calling Jewish newspaper columnist Walter Winchell a “little kike,” and Soviet spies Julius and Ethel Rosenberg “communist kikes.”
Rankin was equally anti-Oriental. And in denouncing them revealed even stronger links to fascist ideology by using the options available to Hitler. After the attack on Pearl Harbor, he declared:
“I’m for catching every Japanese in America, Alaska, and Hawaii now and putting them in concentration camps. … Damn them! Let’s get rid of them now.”
As expected, he was at the forefront of lobbying for the mass incarceration of Japanese-Americans, keeping which was implemented by moving all of them West Coast internment camps.
Like Hitler, Rankin had the same obsession with blood, and he demanded to keep Japanese and African-Americans from donating blood, for fear of “contaminating” whites.
Rankin’s Hitlerite type of politics was tailor-made for Communists, who during their unfriendly testimony called HUAC members racists bent on bringing fascism to American shores. Rankin provided validity for this charge as in the following response about libeals who supported Communist witnesses before Congress:
“They sent this petition to Congress, and I want to read you some of their names. One of the names is June Havoc. We found her real names is June Hovick. Another one was Danny Kaye, and we found out his real name was David Daniel Kaminsky…They are attacking the Committee for doing its duty to protect this country and save the American people from the horrible fate the Communists have meted out to the unfortunate Christian people of Europe.”
To balance this out, it is true that American Communists, in sync with Moscow defending Stalin’s 1939 Non-Aggression Pact with Hitler, came awfully close to defending Hitler. With Stalin no longer opposing Hitler, American Communists stated that the British, who alone among the Western European nations was fighting Hitler, were every bit as fascist, if not moreso than Hitler (which prompted a Jewish person to leave their speech).
They also played fast and loose with the fascist charge. CPUSA member Dalton Trumbo denounced freedom of expression to be “fascist.”
But they never approached the racism of Rankin, and thanks to his example, accusations of fascism by Communists testifying before HUAC had, in one instance, validity.