[Marxism] Re: Role of CPUSA in US Civil Rights Struggle

Marvin Gandall marvgandall at videotron.ca
Thu Nov 3 05:46:56 MST 2005

To add from my own digging:

Rosa Parks may or may not have belonged to the CP - most likely not - but
like all conscious black men and women involved in the struggle for civil
rights during that period, she would have known and worked with a
significant number of white and black activists who were party members or
sympathizers. Her husband, Raymond, may well have been among them. When she
met him in the early 30's, he was active in the CP-led campaign to save the
"Scottsboro boys", nine young blacks threatened with legal lynching on
trumped up charges of rape.

According to John Egerton's sympathetic account of the movement, Speak Now
Against the Day (1995), Raymond was for a time secretary of the Montgomery
NAACP. Egerton says that four months before her famous bus ride, Rosa, as
the local NAACP's youth director, attended the Highlander Folk School in
Mount Eagle, Tennessee. The school was started in the early 30's by Myles
Horton and James Dombrowski who, if they weren't formally party members,
were strongly influenced by it. The purpose of the school, in addition to
promoting working class culture, was to equip activists with the organizing
skills to build the emerging industrial union and civil rights movements.
Highlander began running workshops on school desegregation immediately aftet
the Brown decision in 1954, the year before the bus boycott.

Martin Luther King also later attended the Highlander school, and was
photographed in 1957 sitting next to Abner Berry, who was covering the event
for the Daily Worker. The photo was widely circulated by white racists to
red-bait the movement.

It is not his intention, but I think Brian Shannon does in fact "denigrate"
to some extent the role of the CP when he suggests it's influence was
limited, and in no case greater than that of other socialist groups. My own
cursory reading of accounts like the one above and others previously
suggests otherwise. The CPUSA played an analogous role to the South African
CP in helping spark the black freedom struggle, though of course on a
smaller scale. It had the same catalytic effect on the young industrial
unions. Its energetic commitment to these struggles, the resources it
provided - especially dedicated young organizers - and its association
during the depression with the rapidly industrializing and antifascist USSR
earned it the respect of movement activists like the Parks' and, as Brian
notes, of Rustin and Randolph. CP'ers like Hunter Pitts O'Dell and Stanley
Levinson were apparently part of King's circle and helped draft his
speeches. The party, as is well known, also attracted Ellison, Wright, and
other rising black artists. Civil rights and union activists didn't have to
belong to the party or even support its "maximum program" to value it and
want to work with it.

This would also help explain the keen interest in King displayed by Hoover
and the FBI, which scandalized the liberal public. In lionizing popular
freedom fighters like King, Parks, and Nelson Mandela, the liberal
bourgeoisie has had to obscure their association - loose or not so
loose -with the party. The CP, in order to protect these movements from
red-baiting and to avoid isolating itself, had its own reasons to downplay
this aspect of the struggle. The almost total absence, including on the
left, of any reference to Rosa Parks as a developed political activist and
her widespread portrayal instead as an independent-minded black housewife
acting spontaneously from a sense of moral outrage - a fit role model for
Condoleeza Rice - is a measure of how much of her history and of her times
has been airbrushed.

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