Race is asserting itself as a problematic issue United States once more. I always thought JWs had a relatively good track record on race. They preach a world without prejudice after all.
I found this interesting article from 1956 that makes a number of serious factual claims as well as analytical comments in relation to JWs and racial prejudice.
1. Cohn claims that half of Jehovah's Witnesses in the United States were black, but that the leadership was all white. I find it hard to believe African Americans comprised 50% of JWs in 1956. In 2014 it was 27% according to the Pew Survey. So the article is off to a bumpy start. But it gets more interesting.
2. At the time the article was written the Catholic Church promoted racial integration in the South but JWs rigidly maintained segregation.
3. JWs had separate congregations for black members in the south and in border states as far north as New Jersey.
4. Black congregations were also grouped into black circuits. There were also White and Hispanic circuits.
5. "Until recent years" black Witnesses were not invited to national conventions, "being furnished instead with Jim Crow gatherings". (I am not clear what this means)
6. The author visited the headquarters in 1952 and was told there were only two black JWs in the whole staff, one in the mail room and the other as a linotypist.
7. In the 1953 convention report, from the pictures, the leadership of JWs is exclusively white and black JWs are pictured cleaning up the kitchen or as African delegates in traditional costume.
8. "It is difficult indeed to escape the impression that the role which the Negro plays in the Witness organisation is very similar to that traditionally assigned him by the least enlightened sections of white society: he is regarded as best kept separate and not quite equal; often he is merely 'cleaning up the kitchen' while his white brother does the important theologising."
9. The society's literature counselled strongly against interracial marriage.
10. WT literature described races being kept separate in Africa as a natural state of affairs, despite more enlightened religions groups promoting integration at that time.
11. They described the South African apartheid regime as white people defending the civilisation they had introduced to Africa.
12. Cohn argues that this view of defending "civilisation" is ironic considering Watchtower literature had argued it didn't matter who won WW2, Hitler or the Allies, because they were both being used by Satan.
13. Cohn says that he personally found most white JWs friendly to black people and less prejudiced than the worst of the Watchtower literature and policies would suggest.
14. Interracial marriage was unheard among JWs in this period, was commonly disavowed in speech, as it was said it would bring "discredit" upon Jehovah's organisation.
15. JWs may appear to be non-conformists but in reality they lack the intellectual effort it would take to disavow the racial prejudice of society at large.
16. "Their non-conformity is merely mechanical and learned by rote from the dictatorial leaders of their organisation: it represents little more than a cantankerous eccentricity on religious and political matters. Culturally, Witnesses are strictly pedestrian. One is reminded of a mediocre writer who in straining for originality has to fall back on some such purely mechanical device such as eccentricity in punctuation and spelling." (What a fantastic analysis!)
17. JWs in the period constructed themselves as a protest group at odds with society, and this helost explain their appeal to black Americans as an oppressed group.
18. But JWs don't just reject the way the world is currently organised. They reject the very idea that humans are capable or that they should even attempt to achieve better.
19. A belief system that teaches that it made no difference whether Hitler or the Allies won the war, and that black people shouldn't fight discrimination is ethically deficient.
20. "Witnesses have given up all hope in the potentialities of the human race... No results of ours, of course, can be as spectacular as the Armageddon of Witnesses' fantasies; but unspectacular results that happen are ultimately more satisfying than the spectacular ones that don't."