[Marxism] The Death and Life of a Great American Building | by Jeremiah Moss | NYR Daily | The New York Review of Books

Louis Proyect lnp3 at panix.com
Tue Sep 18 13:00:26 MDT 2018

In the 1920s, the St. Denis turned left. Labor unions moved in, 
organizations of bakers, plasterers, milliners, and poultry workers. The 
Workers Party of America brought in their Lyceum–Literature Department. 
The American Negro Labor Congress came, fighting for the unity of black 
and white workers while campaigning against lynching, Jim Crow, and “all 
forms of white ruling class terrorism,” in the words of the black 
Communist B.D. Amis. In went the Miners’ Relief Committee, which hosted 
“Flaming” Milka Sablich, the nineteen-year-old leader of striking 
Colorado miners, a fiery speaker in a red dress who’d been captured by 
police with a lariat and thrown in jail, but didn’t mind one bit because 
she earned the nickname Little Amazon. “I’ve been called a damned 
agitator,” she said. “I guess I am one, too.” Over the next decades came 
the State Committee of the Communist Party; the National Committee for 
the Defense of Political Prisoners, chaired by Theodore Dreiser; and the 
Workers’ Music School, offering low-fee lessons to counter the “music 
school racket.” The Peace Information Center arrived in 1950, with 
W.E.B. Du Bois as chairman, dedicated to the ban of nuclear weapons.

For decades, dissident literature flowed from every floor of the St. 
Denis—except the ground, taken up by Miller’s Cut-Rate Men’s Shop. The 
Marxist New Horizons for Youth came out of Room 235. The American Negro 
Labor Congress published The Liberator from Room 338. From Room 430 came 
Labor Defender, a publication of the International Labor Defense. 
Freedomways: A Quarterly Review of the Negro Freedom Movement, founded 
by Du Bois, came out of Room 542. And from Room 634, the Labor Research 
Association published five- and ten-cent pamphlets on topics such as 
“Negro Liberation,” “Housing Under Capitalism,” and “Modern Farming, 
Soviet Style.”

In the mid-twentieth century, the St. Denis must have been crawling with 
G-Men. The address 799 Broadway appears over and over in FBI files and 
documents of hearings from the House Committee on Un-American 
Activities. Known “subversives” connected to the building’s 
organizations included many leading African-American figures, among them 
Lorraine Hansberry, Malcolm X, Paul Robeson, and James Baldwin. The 
address also shows up in the Warren Commission Report and CIA memos 
related to the assassination of President John F. Kennedy. Lee Harvey 
Oswald was a card-carrying member of the Fair Play for Cuba Committee, 
located in Room 329, and the address of the St. Denis was printed on the 
infamous pro-Castro leaflets Oswald handed out in New Orleans three 
months before the assassination. Soon after, the FPCC vanished from the 


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