Black Quotidian: Everyday History in African-American Newspapers

January 27, 1955

On January 27, 1955, the California Eagle published an editorial cartoon regarding the a visit of the U.S. aircraft carrier Midway to Capetown, South Africa. Following the policy that American armed services personnel follow the laws of the country in which they are stationed or visiting, Acting Secretary of the Navy James Smith and the American consul general in Capetown agreed that the Navy crew aboard the Midway would abide by South Africa’s system of apartheid segregation. This meant that the Midway’s four hundred black sailors would have to carry special permits while on shore leave and could not visit bars, hotels, movie theaters, and beaches that were restricted to whites. Frank Mitchell, head of the NAACP’s Washington Bureau, lobbied against these segregated shore passes and encouraged the Navy to avoid Capetown as a port of call. “We have learned with sick dismay that U.S. Aircraft Carrier Midway is proceeding to Capetown, South Africa, where 400 colored members of the crew must submit to segregation,” Mitchell wrote to Navy officials. “In a few weeks representatives of nations from Asia and Africa will be meeting in joint session. It is impossible to believe that even the most inept propagandist would fail to [note] this incident to embarrass and denounced our country in that forum. We must not permit the colored, Jews, Protestant and Catholic seamen of the United States to stain their shoe soles on the hate-polluted soil of the Union of South Africa in the name of a vital democracy which we all love and are prepared to defend agains all enemies. We ask that the ‘Midway’ proceed to some other port where our flag may fly in air that is not tainted with the stench of apartheid and where our fighting men may walk ashore with the dignity that U.S. citizens deserve.”62

Thank you to Lou Moore for sending me this California Eagle cartoon and suggesting this topic for today’s post. 

For coverage of this controversy in the black press, see:

Ethel Payne, “Navy Bows to S. Africa Jim Crow,” Chicago Defender, January 22, 1955 (click to view PDF).

“NAACP Raps Navy’s Submissiveness,” Los Angeles Sentinel, January 20, 1955 (PDF).

“NAACP Disputes Government,” New York Amsterdam News, January 29, 1955 (PDF).

A. J. Siggins, “Along the Colonial Front,” Philadelphia Tribune, February 8, 1955 (PDF).

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