DIXIE COMES TO NEW YORK Story of the Freeport GI Slayings By HARRY RAYMOND Introduction by City Councilman Benjamin J. Davis, Jr.
Introduction This pamphlet tells the story of one of the most un-Ameri can fascist crimes ever committed in our country. It happened not in Mississippi or Georgia. It happened in New York State, within 24 miles of New York City, the most liberal city in America. Two Negro citizens, Pfc. Charles Ferguson, and his brother Alfonzo, a veteran of World War II, were wantonly shot to death by quick-triggered Policeman Joseph Romeika, in Freeport,.Long Island. The grief and suffering of the family, children and loved ones 6f these two murdered heroes are beyond description. 'But the disgrace and the shame fall upon America. Our veterans are returning home asking for jobs with union pay, for decent houses for themselves and their families, for democratic liberties which they have fought for. Are they to be given home-grown fascism instead? Dixie lynch law must be driven out of New York. Labor and progressive people, the democratic citizens of this state, won't stand for it. The fascist-killing of the Ferguson brothers must be avenged by punishing the slayer to the full extent of the law. We must serve warning that IT MUST NOT HAPPEN HEREI The facts are ably and faithfully told in this pamphlet. The Daily Worker publishes it, in accordance with its uncompromising fight for veterans' rights and for the full, unconditional equality, which is the right of Negro Americans. We pledge a fight to the finish for justice. We ask you to enlist in the fight and to get your fellow-workers and friends to enlist. We believe the broadest circulation of this pamphlet will help accomplish this supreme people's job. BENJAMIN J. DAVIS, JR., Member New York City Council. Cover drawing by Charles White.
DIXIE COMES TO NEW YORK The GI Slayings in Freeport By HARRY RAYMOND Funerals in Long Island The last three plaintive bugle notes of "taps" faded across the broad stretch of sun-bathed Long Island National Cemetery. A casket bearing the body of Pfc. Charles R. Ferguson, U. S. Army Air Corps, was lowered into the ground. Ferguson, a 27-year-old Negro, had served honorably in the war against fascism. But he did not die as he would havepreferred to die, on the field of battle. His young life was snuffed out Tuesday, Feb. 5, 1946, by a bullet from a service revolver of a Negro-hating policeman. Yet, as though he had fallen in a military campaign, he was buried with full military honors. A neat flag of his country, supplied by the U. S. Army Quartermaster, was carefully draped over his casket. There was an Army rifle squad. Three volleys were fired. A clergyman said a prayer. Everything was strictly regulation and GI. Standing before the open grave, Mrs. Minnie Ferguson, the widow, wept bitterly. A small group of relatives and neighbors stood with bowed heads. More neighbors would have come. But there was little room in the small caravan of borrowed cars that drove the 17 miles to the cemetery. And some had to stay behind in the Ferguson home to be with little two-year-old Wilfred, three-year-old Richard and Charles, five, children of the dead soldier. They did not know their father was dead. As the sad little caravan drove back to Freeport, another funeral procession bearing the body of Alfonzo Ferguson, war veteran and brother of Charles, who was likewise shot to death by the trigger-happy cop on that tragic Tuesday, was on its way to another open grave. 3
Alfonzo's funeral was simple. There were no military trap-" pings. Navy Seaman 3/c Joseph Ferguson, the third brother, who received a bullet wound from the same police gun, stood at the graveside when Alfonzo's body was lowered. Richard, Ferguson, fourth brother at the scene of the killings, did not attend the funerals. He was in Nassau County jail where, protesting innocence, he was railroaded for ioo days on a disorderly conduct charge. Richard charged from his cell that Policeman Joseph Romeika, slayer of his brothers, deliberately killed the two without provocation. He is free now, his case pending appeal. Romeika was whitewashed by local authorities when he said the brothers were "disorderly" and claimed Charles threatened him with a non-existent gun. . Perhaps Mayor Cyril Ryan of Freeport, Police Chief Peter Elar and Nassau County District Attorney James N. Gehrig think the-case against Policeman Romeika is closed now that the two brothers have been properly buried. But a growing citizens' movement is demanding justice. II Investigation Demanded A thorough investigation of the case was at once demanded by outraged Freeport citizens. Aroused by what they called "a wanton shooting," a delegation, of 24 leading local citizens visited Police Chief Peter Elar. The delegation, headed by Elihu Burman, local attorney, asked the Police Chief to launch an immediate probe of the killing-and to suspend the policeman until final disposition of the case. Elar told the group he had investigated and would take no further action. He said the matter was closed so far as his department was concerned, and the only action on the matter would be a grand jury hearing. District Attorney James N. Gehrig, announcing the pending of the grand jury action, said the matter would be "routine."
Immediately after the shooting, Freeport police, acting on instruction of Chief Elar, threw a heavy cordon around the bus terminal and stationed men with tommyguns and tear gas at,the strategic points. A lynch atmosphere hovered over the area as Elar stated,he had taken this action to offset a "possible uprising of local Negroes." The delegation, composed of both white and Negro citizens, left the Municipal Building voicing dissatisfaction with Elar's position. Members of the group said they planned further action to get to the bottom of the case. During the hearing at police headquarters, members of the delegation pointed to Jimcrow conditions in the city, cited the existence of a Jimcrow school and insisted that the atmosphere surrounding the case, and the conditions under which Negroes live in Freeport, were contributing factors to what happened on that fatal Tuesday. They pointed out that the dead soldier, who was on furlough from Greensboro, N. C., had a good military record and had just recently reenlisted in the Army, after serving overseas. The trigger-happy cop, a rookie in the force with eight months' service, said he turned his blazing gun on the Negroes after he was called by Gus Scholakis, owner of the Freeport Bus Terminal Tea Room. Scholakis had refused to serve the Negroes coffee. He served white customers earlier. He claimed the Fergusons were "disorderly" and had "insulted him." Alexander Coleman, Freeport aviation mechanic, said he was not surprised the trouble developed in the Bus Station, Tea Room. He recited an earlier incident of entering the tea room with a Negro who was likewise refused service., Joining the Freeport protest movement were representatives of the local Community Council, pastors of various churches, leaders of Local 450 of the United Electrical, Radio and Machine Workers, CIO, the Interfaith Community Council, the National Association for Advancement of Colored People and the Calvin F. Adams Post of the American Legion. Also the Veterans Against Discrimination, -the newspaper
Peoples Voice; the Nassau County Communist Party, the Nassau County American Labor Party, the Women's War Guild, and, the American Youth for Democracy. Prominent individuals demanded immediate arrest, in dictment and trial of Policeman Romeika. Among these were Harlem Congressman A. Clayton Powell, New York,City Councilman Benjamin J. Davis, City Council man Peter V. Cacchione, the Rev. Theodore Bobilin, superin tendent of 77 Long Island Methodist Churches; the Rev. Ben Richardson of Harlem, State Assemblyman Hulan Jack, Mrs. Bradley Smith, Freeport Community Council; Rabbi Rosen blatt, Roosevelt Temple; the Rev. Frederick M. Meyer, Rock ville Center Congregational Church; Joseph Kehoe, American Communications Association, CIO; Morris U. Schappes, teacher, and Stanley Faulkner, attorney for the Fergusons and leader in the National Lawyers Guild. John Lavin, executive secretary of the Nassau County Com munist Party, at the outset, characterized the slaying of the brothers as "a shocking murder in cold blood" having "the ..-,dor of the deep south." III Communists Act Quick to act and to demand that justice prevail in Freeport, the New York State Board of the Communist Party called on all people of the state to "declare abhorrence of this bloody deed." A statement signed by Robert Thompson, Israel Amter, Bill Norman, Benjamin J. Davis and Charles Loman, New York State Communist leaders, said: "The spirit of Hitler is alive in Freeport. The fascist filibuster tactics of the Bilbos and Eastlands in the U. S. Senate, and the propaganda of fascist groups are encouraging lynchers and anti Semites all over America. "The killing springs from the race hatred created by the agents of big business opposition against the Fair Employment 6
Practice Act. It is encouraged by the.big trust magnates who feel that now is the time to kindle race conflicts in order to divide the people, weaken the labor movement, and tighten their economic stranglehold upon the masses of the people. "We protest and denounce this lynch attack upon innocent Negro citizens. The Communist Party calls upon the people of .New York State to declare their abhorrence of this bloody deed." The Communist Party called on the people to: Demand the removal of Patrolman Romeika, and his trial for manslaughter. Demand the release of Richard Ferguson from the. Nassau County Jail (he is now free on appeal) and indemnity for the slain brothers. Call on Governor Dewey to investigate this outrage. Send protests to the Mayor of Freeport. Governor Dewey, besieged with protests, telegraphed Con gressman Powell he would "look into the matter." IV Eyewitnesses Refute Cop Meanwhile, Mrs. Madeline Moher and Miss Joan Bollmer, white citizens of Long Island, made an affidavit stating they were in the Bus Terminal Tea Room at the time the brothers were charged with being "threatening and disorderly." When they read of the case in the newspapers they came to Attorney Faulkner and this writer. They said they "couldn't sleep" when they heard of the official whitewash of the case. "If the Negroes had been noisy and disorderly, or insulting, as charged by the police, we would have noticed it," Mrs. Moher declared. They said the tea room owner, while serving coffee to them and two other white persons, bus drivers, told the Negroes he had none. Both women said they saw three inches of coffee in the glass gauge of the urn. Mrs. Moher and Miss Bollmer rode in a bus from Hemp
stead with the four Ferguson brothers into the Freeport Bus Terminal prior to the shooting. "The brothers seemed to be having a good time," one of the women told me. "They were standing in the crowded bus. They were polite and not drunk and disorderly." The witnesses further stated they did not hear or see the Negroes break any windows of a coal company office, more than 150 feet from the Terminal, as charged by police. They identified bus drivers and others in the tea room. They were not present, however, during the shooting, having left on another bus prior to that time. Richard Ferguson said he never heard or saw any of his brothers pretend to reach for a gun. He charged the cop seized his brother Charles, kicked him in the groin and then shot him down. He further charged the policeman then walked deliberately around the group and fired again felling the Navy man. The official version is that two shots were fired, one killing both Charles and Alfonzo; the other striking Joseph, the sailor, in the shoulder and wounding him. V "Not Color Case," Says D. A. Nassau County District Attorney, chief law enforcement officer of the county, announced publicly the Ferguson slay ing would be handled as a matter of "routine." But a delegation of 75 prominent Long Island citizens faced him in a high vaulted Mineola Supreme Court chamber and declared: "Routine, Helll This is a deliberate killingl" "I think a lot of agitation has taken place because of the assumption that the boys were shot because they were colored boys," Gehrig barked back. Mrs. Anna J. Martin, leader of the delegation, retorted steps would be taken to assure justice. Mrs. Bradley Smith, of the Freeport Community Council, 8
This is the last picture taken of Pfc. Charles R. Ferguson, U. S. Army Air Corps. While home on a re-enlistment furlough, this 27-year-old Negro soldier was brutally shot to death by a Freeport, L. I., cop on Feb. 5, 1946. 9
demanded that Gehrig ascertain why the policeman "shot to kill" and "then walked around and shot again." She told the Distri-t Attorney she did not think the matter was "routine" when two lives were involved. The Rev. William Jones, of the Second Baptist Church, Freeport, arose and said the Fergusons, members of his congregation,,had always been "'a quiet set of boys." Rev. William F. Huston presented a resolution signed by 45 of his parishioners, stating: "The shooting was all out of proportion with the handling of disorderly cQnduct." Rev. Huston proposed the policeman be immediately suspended. Gehrig, obviously annoyed, answered he had no power to suspend the cop. Members of the delegation clashed with Gehrig stating the Freeport police chief said he exonerated the cop after the dis trict attorney's office said the policeman was justified in his action. It was strongly emphasized by the group that as chief law enforcement officer of the county, Gehrig could have ordered the arrest of the policeman if he saw fit. The district attorney, while stating he would not attempt to prejudge the case, indulged in a bit of pre-judging, before hearing all witnesses, when he told the delegation: "It is a fact that this boy (Charles Ferguson) said he had a .45 caliber gun.in his pocket and reached to his pocket. He rebuked the delegation for "trying to inject color into the administration of justice" and added: "I'd be against that." But this drew a quick retort from another member of the delegation. "There are some features of this case that remind us of the deep South," declared John Lavin, executive secretary of the Nassau Communist Party and member of the delegation. "I don't see how a policeman would have shot three white boys like that, particularly in uniform," Lavin added.
The courtroom was electrified when Edward Ferguson, a fifth brother who came from Washington, D. C., arose and, his eyes overflowing with tears, asked why the policeman had to shoot two more men after he felled Charles. "I came all the way from Washington see my brother who is in jail," he stated. "They won't let me see him. I demand to see him." At this point Mrs. Selma Rose, a neighbor of the Fergusons, leaped to her feet and pointed to the short leather jacket worn by Edward. "That's the kind of a jacket that Charles wore that night," she shouted. She showed the district attorney by making Edward stand up and turn around that if anyone carried a gun under such a jacket it would be quite obvious to a policeman. VI Kangaroo Court The transcript of the trial of Richard Ferguson in Freeport Police Court, Feb. 5, 1946, nine hours after the shooting, ' throws light on the reckless lawleqsness of the' policeman's act. With two men-dead and one wounded in a Navy hospital, far from prying eyes, Freeport officialdom moved with in decent speed to get the one remaining brother, a damaging witness against the cop, out of the way. Richard was haled before Police Judge Hilbert R. Johnson, before the bodies of. two brothers were cold. The 13-page transcript of the trial shows the judge failed even to protect the basic rights of the defendant. Richard was not advised by the court, according to the record, that he had a right to be represented by counsel. Nor was he warned the law did not require him to testify as a witness. On -the stand, the cop, questioned by the judge, testified he seized the four Fergusons after Scholakis, the restaurant owner, said the Negroes "molested" him. Romeika said Scholakis alleged the men broke a window of Sinclair Coal
Co. office 200 feet from the restaurant. There was no direct evidence the Negroes broke the window. The cop said the Fergusons approached him. Charles Ferguson, he claimed, used "profane language." The judge asked what Richard did. Q. What did he actually say or dot A. Well, I arrested the four for disorderly conduct and disturbing the peace and as I had them against signal box 14, 1 notified Lt. Dixon that I wanted the station wagon down as I had an arrest.... I had the four defendants march back to the Sinclair Coal Co. (Here he lined them up against the wall execution style.) Romeika testified the four shouted in chorus: "We will kill you. You aren't going to take us in." But Richard, testifying on the same witness stand, declared: "I don't recall anyone saying that." He was asked if he remembered the language used. Q. That they don't like cops? A. No. Q. You don't recall any profane language at all? A. I don't recall what was said. Q. Was any profane language used? A. When coming up from the Park. Q. None with the officer? A. No. Q. You were very polite to him? A. No, but we weren't cursing at him. I didn't say a word to him. Richard also denied he had cursed the restaurant man, Scholakis. The judge, however, kept darting questions at Richard, apparently trying to get him to justify the cop's action. But Richard, in a hostile atmosphere and without friends in the court, insisted no disorderly language was used. Q. You didn't hear any profane language used in the presence of the officer? A. No. Q. You want me to believe that if you were within eight "
brothers, were armed. Nor did Joseph, the wound d sailor, nor Richard, the fourth brother who escaped the\bullets, have a gun. The only gun was in his own blood-stained, guilty hand. New witnesses appear daily to testify that the policeman killed in cold blood. But District Attorney James N. Gehrig flatly refuses to conduct a special investigation. He insists the brothers were not killed because of their color. This is not so. No white soldiers or sailors would be shot down this way. He said the case will be handled in a "routine" manner. The people of America must never, never let this human slaughter be callously covered'up, forgotten or brushed aside by any cold-hearted, bureaucratic, reactional legal "routine." This is plain, wanton killingl The policeman must be arrested, indicted and tried by a jury for his deed. Bias against Negroes in Freeport must be ended. The "ghetto" system in the village with its Cleveland Ave. Jimcrow school, must be abolished. Governor Dewey must be forced to act. Demand he investigate the outrage. Demand Freeport Mayor Cyril Ryan and his Police Chief Peter Elar suspend and jail the cop. Demand indemnity for the Ferguson family-for Charles Ferguson's -hidow, Minnie, and three small children, Charles, Jr., five, Richard, three, and Wilfred, two. This is no time for complacency. This is no time to confine action to whispers in parlor discussions about "how bad things are getting." Things are bad. Very bad. The lynch spirit has moved across the Mason-Dixon line into the heart of New York state. If the slayer of the Fergusons is permitted to go unpunished we shall have failed in the struggle for common justice. We dare not fail. The conscience of America must not permit it. Published by the DAILY WORKER, 50 East 13th St., New York 3, N. Y. February, 1946. Additional copies available at one cent per copy. a ie20
ABOUT THE AUTHOR A veteran of World War I and one-time laborer, shipyard worker, circus performer and merchant seaman, Harry Raymond is a member of the staff of the Daily Worker, where he has served for 15 years. During that period he covered for the paper the Great Bonus March of 1932, the General Textile Strike of 1934 and numerous other labor struggles. In 1937 his expose of the Spanish fascist espionage network in U. S. brought a demand on the floor of the Senate for ouster of Franco's agents. Another of his journalistic scoops was the expose that same year of Russian Czarist Fascist Anastase Vonsiatsky, later convicted as a Nazi agent. Mr. Raymond has been the Daily Worker's New York City Hall reporter for the past eight years. He covered the Freeport slayings for his paper. READ THE PAPERS THAT FIGHT FOR THE RIGHTS OF THE NEGRO PEOPLE AND ALL MINORITIES, AND FOR THE DEMOCRATIC RIGHTS OF ALL THE PEOPLE Available at newsstands or by subscription THE WORKER - 50 East 13th St., New York 3, N. Y. I want to subscribe to the paper that fights for the people. Send my copy of THE WORKER to me each week for: ] I YEAL..... $2.50 ' 6 M O NTHS..................... $1.50 NAME..--.....----...----- ------------------------------------- ADDRESS..--..--..--.....---------------------------------------- CITY........................-- P.O. ZONE...... STATE........... (Enclose money order or check with this coupon) Q
Mrs. Minnie Ferguson, widow of Pfc. Charles Ferguson who was brutally shot to death by a Freeport, L. I., cop, sits in her poor little Jimcrow home, 60 St. Francis St., on the outskirts of Roosevelt Village, L. I. With her are her three small children, Charles, Jr., 5, Wilfred, 2, and Richard, 3. They are bright, well-behaved little boys. They have no toys and few other children's necessities enjoyed by most little white boys in the village. Their mother dreams of them growing up in the kind of world their father fought for-a world without Jimcrow and where all have equal opportunity.