Bob Jones is the main character in the novel If He Hollers Let Him Go that is set in Los Angeles during the 1940’s. During this era, industrial capitalism had created an apparent distinct compensation structure whereby Southern wages were substantially lower than in the North. Jones had moved to California in search of securing a better future. He admits having fear of being incapable of fulfilling his ambitions, fear of the racism around him, and fear of the war and being coerced into the army. However, he recounts feeling powerful in his uniform and has been newly promoted to a higher role of leadership and responsibility at his work in the Atlas shipyard. Because the white men were the ones fighting in the world war, shipyards were forced to engage services of men and women of color. The Jim Crow laws that mandated the segregation of public transportation, public places, and schools between blacks and whites resulted in the issuance of Executive Order 8802 that affirmed the elimination of discrimination of employees in Government or defense industries because of national origin, color, creed or race.
The National War Labor Board abolishes the classifications “white laborer” and “colored laborer” by integrating them to only “laborer” with similar payrolls. Regardless of the African Americans being provided with equal opportunities, there were tensions between the races which aggravated after the bombing of Pearl Harbor affecting the minority groups. Since he is a supervisor, this position and the fact that he is black, places Jones under tight scrutiny. His supervisors are closely watching for his misstep to fire him while his white colleagues do not observe his authority. A white worker, Johnny Stoddard yells “nigger” at Jones and though he does not react, he acts on his anger when confronted by Madge Perkins. Madge refuses to work with Jones by saying, “I am not gonna work with no nigger” to which Jones insults her. This reaction not only causes Jones to be demoted from his supervisory position but also places his job at a risk of being terminated.
Racial apartheid moved beyond the workplace into the society at large. White workers segregated themselves in working-class neighborhoods where racial integration was vehemently obstructed using FHA lending regulations and restrictive mortgage covenants. Alice is an upper-class girl and girlfriend of Jones who experiences internal and external conflict because she is black. Being surrounded by white people she is not used to being treated differently due to her color. However, after the rejection of service at a romantic dinner and an altercation with the police she realizes that she is not part of the white people and will be treated the same as other black individuals.
The last encounter between Jones and Madge further compliments the evidence of strong widespread fascism at the era. When Madge accuses Jones of rape, the white workers do not consider Jones explanation and beat him to a pulp. After escaping Jones is not convinced to go to the authorities because he knows they would never believe him since he is a black man. Even after realizing that Madge was lying about the incident, the company’s president does not reinstate Jones position, instead, he is blackmailed into enlisting in the army. All in all, Jones is subject to all the fears he had.
- Lichtenstein, “State of Union,” Course Reader, p 54-97.
- Chester Himes, If He Hollers Let Him Go, (New York: Thunder’s Mountain Press, 1945, 1986), p. 16-173.
- Eileen Boris, “Race, Gender, and Industrial Unionism: World War II and Its Aftermath,” Course Reader, p 102 to 118.