Anne Braden

Louis Proyect lnp3 at
Sun Jan 19 11:13:03 MST 2003

NY Times Book Review, Jan. 19, 2003
'Subversive Southerner': Connecting the Strands of the Civil Rights Movement

As long as the cold war was on, historians made scant acknowledgment of how
many of the ends, means and participants in the civil rights movement came
out of the American left of the New Deal era. In the 1930's, mass
demonstrations, ''We Shall Overcome'' and even the term ''civil rights'' as
a synonym for black equality were hallmarks of an elastic network of
liberals, labor unionists and, yes, Communists that was redbaited into
oblivion by a familiar cast of subversive-hunters: J. Edgar Hoover,
Southern legislators, the Ku Klux Klan.

Catherine Fosl's ''Subversive Southerner'' is the first full-length
biography of Anne Braden, a ubiquitous yet elusive white activist who
rallied the fractured remnants of that Old Left coalition to the
battlefronts of civil rights in the 1950's and 60's. She was one of the
movement's major minor figures: an influence on Martin Luther King Jr., a
den mother to the young radicals in the Student Nonviolent Coordinating
Committee and, thanks to her background in journalism, a talented publicist
and propagandist for the movement.

Braden's subversiveness was all the more striking for how picturesquely
southern she was. Born in Kentucky in 1924, she was raised in fading
gentility in Anniston, Ala. Bluestocking vying with belle, she embarked on
a promising career as a journalist after graduating from a respected
Virginia women's college. It was during the mid-1940's, while covering the
courts in ultrasegregated Birmingham, Ala., that Braden became disgusted
with the racial status quo. She bolted Birmingham for a job at The
Louisville Times, where she found her mentor and husband, Carl Braden, a
second-generation socialist named after Karl Marx. The 24-year-old Anne's
own initiation into political activism was working on Henry Wallace's
Progressive Party campaign for president in 1948, the last hurrah of the
old American left.

Just as the federal government began oiling up its anti-Communist machinery
to counter a mostly moot internal threat, Braden decided to leave
journalism to throw herself into what she saw as the class struggle, whose
most blatant articulation was the oppression of blacks. ''I didn't expect
to contribute a great deal,'' she explained later, ''but I was going to be
on the side of history that represented life instead of death.'' In 1954,
the Bradens became the most notorious white people in the South by offering
themselves as fronts for a black family to buy a house in an all-white
neighborhood. After the house was bombed, it was Anne and Carl Braden who
were indicted -- for sedition. He was convicted and sentenced to 15 years
in prison. Anne proved so skillful at turning their case into a civil
libertarian cause celebre that she and Carl (his conviction was overturned
in 1956) were recruited to the staff of the Southern Conference Educational
Fund, the shell of a visionary organization of New Deal liberals (including
Eleanor Roosevelt), left-wingers and unionists founded in 1938 to
democratize the South. Through this much-redbaited group, Anne Braden
brought the historical memory of the Old Left to the modern movement.


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