Aspects of the Scottsboro Campaign
observed that “next to the trials of Sacco and Vanzetti and perhaps the
Rosenbergs, the Scottsboro case was the most prominent international cause
célèbre in American history.”1
Certainly, it was the most famous rape case of the century. In
Scottsboro: A Tragedy of the American South, Dan T. Carter superbly
recounted the legal intricacies of this complex case,2
but fully as important as the courtroom drama and secret negotiations with
Alabama governors was the campaign of agitation organized by the
International Labor Defense (ILD).
On March 26, 1931, a
posse of two hundred whites pulled nine young blacks from a freight train
in northern Alabama, accused them of the rape of two white girls who had
been hoboing on the same train, and nearly lynched the Negro youths.
However, persuaded to rely upon legal processes,3
the white populace waited two weeks to literally applaud the court’s
action whereby eight of the Negroes were sentenced to death in the
electric chair.4 By May,
1931, a struggle to control the Negroes’ defense erupted between the
liberal National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP)
and the Communist ILD. One point of dispute between these two
organizations was the role assigned to “mass action”: while the NAACP
generally opposed large demonstrations, parades, and protest rallies, the
ILD promoted such agitation.5
The purpose of this article is to review some of the aspects of the
Scottsboro protest agitation, with emphasis on that movement in the South.
As early as April,
1931, the Communist Daily Worker began extensive coverage of the
“frame-up”—so extensive for so many years that William Nolan concluded:
“the amount of space allotted to it [the Scottsboro Case] was almost
incredible . . . the reader of the Daily Worker might have gotten
the impression that nothing else mattered to the communists, so many were
the columns devoted to the case.”6
Henry Moon concluded that the cause of the youths “was second only to the
defense of the Soviet Union on the party agenda.”7
The Scottsboro case was to be the most effective campaign conducted by the
Communists among Negroes, and it raised the ILD to prominence as a
defender of black rights.8
Indeed, the previous efforts by the Communists in the Negro community had
been so meager that one might assert that Communist agitation did not
begin among blacks until the Scottsboro case.9
Soon after the ILD dispatched attorneys to Alabama, the Central Committee
of the Communist Party, U.S.A., issued directives to the general
membership concerning the rape case. Through the establishment of local
neighborhood committees focusing upon the Scottsboro issue, and by
supplying speakers to interested clubs, churches, and unions, the Party
hoped to gain non-Communist support for its defense effort. To insure
fulfillment of this directive, from two to four members of each Party unit
were assigned to ILD and League of Struggle for Negro Rights activities.
These comrades were to be supervised in their work by a director chosen
from each section.10
called upon an ILD speaker, the theme he stressed, aside from highly
specific contentions that changed with the events of the cases, was the
universality of Scottsboro. “The life of the Negro people today is a
thousand bloody Scottsboros,” wrote James W. Ford, the Negro Communist
candidate for Vice-President in the 1930s.11
Henry ‘Winston emphasized that under capitalism additional Scottsboros
would occur. With nothing to do, the unemployed Negro youth of America
stood idling on street corners. Some might seek escape by hoboing to
another community in search of work. Winston warned young blacks,
however, “You are liable to get pulled off of a freight-train and sent off
to jail or a chain gang for the crime of looking for work. You are
running the risk of becoming another Scottsboro boy. Any Negro is in
danger of becoming another Scottsboro boy.”12
leader, Earl Browder, maintained that despite the universality of
Scottsboro, there was something unique about these trials. The Scottsboro
case differed from the numerous similar examples of Southern “justice,” he
said, because the Scottsboro boys had selected the ILD to defend them.
Had liberals or socialists conducted the defense, the case would have
remained unnoticed and the boys electrocuted. What distinguished
Scottsboro from thousands of similar cases, he maintained, was the
militant defense and agitation sponsored by the ILD.13
agitation was most impressive. Albert Einstein, Maxim Gorki, Mme. Sun Yat
Sen, Jomo Kenyatta, André Malraux, and Theodore Dreiser all petitioned for
the release of the defenants.14
On a single day there were Scottsboro demonstrations in San Salvador,
Johannesburg, Montevideo, Santo Domingo, and Santiago de Cuba. Accra, now
the capital of Ghana, reported at least one rally, and in Newcastle the
mayor participated in the protest. A collective farm in the Soviet Union
was christened “Scottshoro.”15
The radical Frenchman Daniel Guerin reported that Communists “did a
splendid job of pillorying American racism for all the world to see.”16
The NAACP’s Walter White ruefully admitted the same fact when
he wrote, “undoubtedly more harmful . . . was the effective use by the
Communists all over the world of the Scottsboro case to vilify American
democracy and to create distrust of it, especially among the dark-skinned
peoples of Asia, Africa and Latin America.”17
Within the United
States the Party’s Scottsboro campaign was chiefly directed toward the
Negro people. Communists viewed the Scottsboro case as an opportunity to
emerge as the champion of the oppressed. To some degree they were
By 1933 Lawrence
Reddick reported that the Scottsboro agitation “had made some dent” on
Negro students.18 Roger
Baldwin of the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) quoted a Southern
educator as stating, “There’s too much rabbit in most of us and this
Scottsboro case has taken a lot of rabbit out and made us fight.” Baldwin
was also informed that Negro students had gained hope and courage as a
consequence of the Scottsboro campaign.19
Even respectable Negro fraternities passed resolutions on the case,20
while in Philadelphia hundreds of school children struck on behalf of the
Alabama defendants21—a minor
precursor to the school boycotts of the 1960s.
Not only students
were stirred by the Scottsboro case. The editor of the Negro Houston
Informer and Texas Freeman noted that many downtrodden blacks had
become favorably disposed to the Communists because of their efforts to
save the Scottsboro boys.22
The editor of another Negro paper, the Louisville Leader,
observed that the Scottsboro case, along with integrated parties and
eviction protests, “would advertise Communism, recommend it highly, and
make a strong appeal to a certain number of a much abused race.”23
This appeal was certainly strong to Benjamin J. Davis, Jr., son of the
prominent Atlanta Republican family, who joined the Communist Party in
January, 1933. He recalled that “my impression of the Communists was
formed during the period of Scottsboro—the case which epitomized the
plight of the Negro and the correct policy of the Communist Party. . . .”24
Even Asbury Smith, Baltimore minister and member of the executive board
of the Urban League, was impressed sufficiently to assert that “the
Communists go out and fight for Negro rights. The International Labor
Defense is Communism in action for Negro rights and Scottsboro is the
supreme example.” He concluded, “The International Labor Defense can and
will do much good for the Negro.”25
significance was the amicable relationship established between the
Communist Party and various Negro churches as a consequence of the
Scottsboro agitation. This relationship was important to the Party,
because the church was the most salient and unifying force in the life of
the American Negro.26 Prior
to the Alabama “rape” case, the Communists had often denounced religious
institutions, including Negro churches, on ideological grounds; these
attacks diminished shortly after the ILD entered the Scottsboro case, and
the Daily Worker reported sizable religious support of the effort
to save the accused Negroes.27
Radical attacks upon churches were soon limited to those congregations
that endorsed the NAACP and refused to allow the ILD to present its view.
In Chattanooga, Cleveland, Detroit, Baltimore, indeed, throughout the
nation, leading Negro churches became centers where Communist spokesmen
pleaded on behalf of the Scottsboro boys. The Party representatives
listened to the opening hymns, the prayers, and the preachers; and in
return for the opportunity to address the meeting and collect funds for
the defense, they de-emphasized their atheism.28
It was from the
sympathetic Negro churches that the United Front Scottsboro Committees
largely recruited members and supporters. In turn, it was through these
specifically Scottsboro fronts that the Communists were able to receive
their first hearings before Negro clubs, unions, and additional Negro
churches. Not all ministers were disposed to invite Communists to their
churches, but many acquiesced because “the colored ministers were afraid
not to co-operate with a movement which aroused such deep-seated emotions
among their followers.”29
The Negro churches
themselves became an agency for recruiting members into the Party,30
and Communists debated whether they should abandon entirely their
Thus, Earl Browder declared:
We judge religious
organizations and their leaders by their attitudes to the fundamental
social issues of the day. . . . We would be delighted if thousands of
other churches would support the Workers Social Insurance Bill, the fight
to free the Scottsboro boys. . . .32
The temper of the
South concerning the case can best be gauged not only by the exuberant
crowd celebrating the conviction of “rapists,” but by the attitudes openly
manifested in subsequent editorials and news items. For example, the
Jackson County Sentinel, published in Scottsboro, reported on May 21,
Two foreign looking
guys dropped into town Wednesday . . . and introduced themselves as
reporters from the New York Times wanting information and “dope” on
the [Scottsboro] negro [sic] case. They showed supposedly good
credentials, but both were sort of Russian-looking and they soon collected
a crowd of local people who had a suspicion they were meddling Reds. They
called at the Sentinel office to look over the files . . . later the two
strangers were picked up in a Ford roadster by two other strangers and
they tore out of h ere without even goodbye. . . .
One of them asked me
what the crowd was following them for and I told them they thought they
were Reds. They might have been Reds (they were not from the Times)
but they sure looked white then. From now on, strangers with Russian
accents and long hair better stop over at Chattanooga and just read about
The editor of the
Sentinel continued his amusing theme a week later (May 28):
anything more on our. . . “New York Times” reporters who . . . left about
thirty minutes ahead of a telegram proving them fakes. I shall always
remember how homesick that long-haired boy looked when fifteen local
mountaineers asked to see his credentials.
While the editor of
the small-town weekly chuckled, the editor of the respectable
Chatanooga Times (May 21, 1931) printed a potentially much more
dangerous story about the visitors to Scottsboro, for it concluded with
this advice to mountaineers and others, under the heading “New York
‘Reporters’ Believed Imposters”:
They were travelling
in a Ford roadster with rumble seat. All were foreigners. One of them
wore glasses and a gray suit. He had a prominent nose. The driver of the
car was red-headed, while a third was hatless and possessed a heavy head
of black hair. Description of the fourth was not available.
example of Southern attitudes can be observed in this rather lengthy
account in the July 23, 1931, Jackson County Sentinel:
Alleged Reds Visit Scottsboro
visitors last Saturday night and Sunday. The Reds, themselves! . . .
Saturday night a man
and a woman, nicely dressed and well-educated hitch-hiked into town and
registered at the Bailey Hotel as Mr. and Mrs. _______ of Washington.
They strolled about town and engaged several negroes [sic] in
conversation, the negroes state, inquiring about the trial and case here.
. . .
One of the negroes
to whom they talked reported the matter to a white man and Sunday morning
Sheriff Wann picked up the couple at a filling station in town at which
they said they were waiting to catch a ride out of Scottsboro.
They were taken to
the jail and their baggage searched and it was found they had a number of
pieces of red literature and correspondence with Communist headquarters in
New York and other places. . . .
The woman had been
keeping a diary in German and it was carried to a local yong lady who
interpreted it but could find nothing in it . . . but was evidently a
personal affair. . . .
They were held at
jail for a couple of hours and seemed badly frightened . . . . Immediately
after being taken to the jail the man . . . asked that he might be
allowed to send some telegrams and he gave wires to be sent to a
Congressman in Washington and other persons New York and elsewhere.
However, the Sheriff did not send the wires . . . .
He stated that both
he and his wife were teachers and had come to Scottsboro out of curiosity
and had made no effort at any kind of organization, yet they admitted
talking to several negroes and did not deny they were communists. . . .
with attorneys and other higher officials and having no direct evidence
that either . . . had organized any negroes here and believing that it was
best for all concerned to release them and send them on their way before
any violence might occur, the Sheriff released the couple and offered . .
. to transport them outside the town. . . . They said they wished to
continue on their way to Mexico . . . but before they left the fail here
they went through their baggage at the suggestion of officers, and
destroyed all the Communist correspondence and literature that might give
them trouble again.
The man and the
woman shook hands with the sheriff a number times and were profuse in
their thanks, and Sheriff Wan said to them:
“You are very unwise
to come here . . . or attempt to agitate negroes or even as an outside. .
. . We are giving you protection and sending you safely away; regardless
of what the Reds say about us, we have never been unfair to strangers,
either negro or white. . . .”
. . . However, under
the circumstances the sheriff and officials, we believe, pursued the wise
course at this time in sending them on their way unmolested. . . .
It may be this act
was not satisfying to many of our citizens, and it could be hardly fully
satisfying to any citizen of this town or county, yet it may have avoided
world-wide ridicule and vicious attacks not confined to words and
When in Scottsboro
even a well-dressed white couple could be taken to jail because they
conversed with Negroes, this warning in the Jackson County Sentinel,
of August 6, 1931, was ominous:
. . . but the local
white and colored races seem to be on terms of good understanding and
friendship. We seriously feel but a very, very few local negroes could be
persuaded to join the Communist ranks. The real trouble lies in the
percent of negroes who are also enemies of their own race getting wrong
kinds of notions in their heads. In Scottsboro the larger per cent of the
negroes are much more afraid of dangerous and criminally inclined members
of their own race than they are of any white people anywhere.
However, it is well
for all negroes in this community to understand at this time that no
Communist activity will be tolerated here and if they get in trouble along
this line they cannot expect sympathy from white sources so many times
loyal in answering “the trouble call.”
With such attitudes
dominant in the South, the task of the Scottsboro defenders was most
difficult. Nevertheless, some radicals dared to rouse the racist wrath.
Langston Hughes visited Tuskegee Institute in Alabama soon after the
Scottsboro case had begun; there he did not hear Scottsboro mentioned.
While at Oakwood Junior College, near Huntsville, Hughes revealed his
desire to interview Ruby Bates, one of the victims of the Scottsboro boys’
alleged assault. It was then rumored that Miss Bates had changed her
story and denied that any rape had occurred (indeed, she was later to
become the principal defense witness). Warned that he would receive no
cooperation from Negroes at Oakwood and persuaded that his endeavors might
endanger the college, Hughes abandoned his project.33
He then traveled to the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill where
he addressed various groups on the white campus. The daily Tar Heel
noted that “his poetry as well as his speaking is the expression of a
clear and sincere spirit.”34
But the Charlotte Southern Textile Bulletin deemed his speech a
clear and present danger. Before the white college students, Hughes had
For the sake of
American justice (if there is any) and for the honor of southern gentlemen
(if there ever were any) let the south rise up in press and pulpit, home
and school, senate chambers and rotary clubs and petition the freedom of
the doomed young blacks so indiscreet as to travel unwittingly on the same
freight train with two white prostitutes. . . .35
Hughes’ speech was
reprinted in the recently founded radical magazine in Chapel Hill,
Contempo, edited by Anthony Buttita. When a traveling salesman
brought a copy of Contempo to the editor of the Jackson County
Progressive Age in Scottsboro, the Alabama editor fumed:
The article was
written by a member of the Communist party . . . and pertains to the eight
[Scottsboro] negroes . . . . It contains statements in it that are
scandalous and blasphemous and we are surprised that a Southern
institution would allow such articles printed . . . . We thought once of
printing the article in question . . . but it is so nasty and dirty that
we do not want it to appear on our pages, especially where children would
read it. The writer, Langston Hughes, takes a shot at the South for its
attitude toward social equality and hints that our judge permitted a farce
trial and reflects on the jury and the court officials.36
intellectuals were not the only ones enraged by Hughes. While in North
Carolina, Buttita and some friends accompanied Hughes to a drug store
where all ordered food and were served. When the waiter realized that he
had erred in thinking Hughes a Mexican, he wanted to punch the black poet
in the nose.37
Some years later
Hughes described his experience speaking in the South in an article,
“Cowards from the Colleges.” Hughes reported that not a single Tuskegee
student had attended any of the Scottsboro trials. While Scottsboro
protestors demonstrated around the globe, not one demonstration had
occurred on a Negro campus in Alabama.38
Two racist apologists for the Southern way of life gloated: “Tuskegee
Institute, the most cultured negro educational institution in the world,
has remained aloof from Scottsboro case throughout its spectacular
Tuskegee had not aloof; many of its leaders strove to stifle Scottsboro
protests in Alabama.40
If the colleges were
cowed, a considerable number of Southerners outside the academic community
were not. As early as May 30, 1931, an All-Southern United Front
Scottsboro Defense Conference of two hundred delegates was scheduled for
Chattanooga.41 Only fifty
miles from Scottsboro, the Tennessee city had on April 3, 1931, convicted
a white Communist, Mary Dalton, for inciting to riot, but a fortnight
later the ruling against her was reversed; thus of all the potential sites
in the South, the Communists were probably wise in choosing Chattanooga
for their gathering.42
When the Southern
Conference began, some of its leaders were arrested for loitering after
they had dared stroll, black and white, down a Chattanooga street.43
Mrs. Bessie Ball, a black lady from that city, had been elected as a
delegate to the Conference—a meeting condemned by the NAACP and the local
ministers’ alliance. Mr. Ball, stirred by one of the anti-communist
divines, discovered his wife’s intention to attend the radical conclave,
and beat her. Their daughter had him arrested, but when his case came
before the court, “the judge congratulated him on his conduct and advised
him to use a shotgun on the Reds and call the police if they gave him any
trouble. The wife was fined.” Mr. Ball next hit a neighbor on the head
with a wooden block and wounded another with a shotgun. His victims were
imprisoned, but he remained free.44
With such punishment
for seeking freedom and such rewards for collaboration, it is not
surprising to discover many “Negro leaders” saying what whites wanted to
hear. A few days following the conclusion of the All-Southern Scottsboro
Conference, William Pickens, field secretary of the NAACP, spoke in
Chattanooga. When two workers demanded the floor to present ILD views,
they were immediately arrested.45
The Chattanooga Times (June 8, 1931) extensively reported
Pickens’ address under the headline: “Negro Speaker Warns Against Red
Campaign. Dr. Pickens Cites Activities in Scottsboro Case.” Moreover,
Pickens’ speech provided the basis for an editorial in the June 9, 1931,
Chattanooga Times that was republished in the June 11, 1931
Jackson County Sentinel:
Negro Leader Sounds Warning
would do well to heed the warning of Dr. William Pickens, colored, field
secretary of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored
People, that communist activities among Negroes constitute a serious
menace to the South. “This Communist sapping through the densely ignorant
portion of the colored population, while not immediately menacing to
government itself, is certainly most menacing to good race relations . . .
In a similar tone,
the Chattanooga Ministers’ Alliance devoted its radio program to good race
relations and denounced the Communists for attempting “to tear the South
asunder and destroy the peace and harmony existing for many years.”44
The May 21, 1931, Jackson County Sentinel happily published a
“Letter From Pastor of Local Negro Church,” who wrote in reply to a letter
from a white Philadelphia Communist printed in the same paper:
Donald Greer does
not know the facts in the case. What does a man of his make-up care about
facts. He denounces the South as nothing but a lynching part of the
country, which is a lie from the deepest hell.
The racial troubles.
. . is caused by the ignorance of both races. . . .
Those eight boys if
guilty should be dealt with according to law, and personally I believe
they have been given a fair trial and I speak the sentiment of the better
class of negroes when I say such. Harmony, peace and good will and
understanding prevails among the races in Scottsboro [emphasis mine-H.T.M.].
There will be some of my race who perhaps will read this letter and say
some unkind things, and think I have been urged by some whites to write in
order to stand in their good graces which is not true. No one asked or
urged. . . . For after all there is one race, the human race.
The culmination of
this reactionary criticism occurred after the Camp Hill-Dadeville
incidents of July, 1931, in which at least one Negro was killed in central
Alabama. Dan Carter described the events and concluded:
Not one Alabama
newspaper pointed out that, far from being a bloody Negro race riot, it
was the whites who formed mobs and terrorlzed the countryside . . . . the
press and local officials seemed intent on proving to the satisfaction of
everyone that the local Negroes were bent on raping and killing the whites
of the community. The real crime of the hapless Negroes was simply their
effort to organize. Local whites correctly saw this as a threat to the
status quo. Any effort to give the Negro tenant a voice . . . was
essentially “revolutionary.” At heart Tallapoosa white citizens knew that
the movement also threatened the existing biracial relationship. Thus
they were unduly concerned about the sharecroppers’ stepping “out of their
place” in protesting the Scottsboro verdict.47
The Communists, the
ACLU, the Urban League and others vigorously denounced the white racists
for their intimidation.48
The NAACP, however, blinded by anti-communism, echoed the line of the
southern white power structure. W. E. B. Du Bois expressed the NAACP
position on the Camp Hill-Dadeville incidents in Crisis:
. . . black
sharecroppers, half-starved and desperate, were organized . . . and then
induced to meet and protest Scottsboro. . . . If this was instigated by
Communists. . . it is too despicable for words. . . .49
To fully appreciate
how conservative the response of the NAACP was, one need only compare the
Crisis editorial with that of the Chattanooga News:
. . . and now we see
where blood has been shed in a “Communist riot” at Dadeville. One negro
has been killed, two white men and five negroes wounded.
Five negroes have
been “sent out after stovewood,” and have not returned. The inference is
Negroes gathered at
a lonely cabin in the woods and began “demonstrating,” and speaking in
favor of the release of the negroes at Scottsboro. . . .
The trouble is said
to have started when the sheriff sought to disarm a negro sentry guarding
the cabin. Why should the sentry have been on guard? Speech is free in
America, and the negroes were entirely within their rights in meeting and
protesting against the execution of the negroes at Scottsboro. The mere
fact that they were protesting does not make them Communists, although a
negro Communist from Chattanooga is said to have been the leader.
The entire affair
calls for an investigation; especially the fate of the negroes who were
“sent out for stovewood.”50
A month after Camp
Hill the intimidation campaign against radicals in the South was in full
swing, as shown in this article from the August 16, 1931, Huntsville
members of the Ku Klux Klan marched through the downtown district [of
Huntsville, Alabama] last night, and out into the thickly settled negro
suburbs, in protest against the alleged spread of Communism in Huntsville.
. . . The Klansmen
had the official sanction of the city government to march, since a traffic
policeman led the way and halted traffic at each corner. . . .
Klansman told The Dally Times reporter that the organization had gone on
record . . . against Communism, and that more drastic steps will be taken
should the order continue to spread locally, as reputed among negroes.
That same month
another Negro leader denounced Communists as the cause of unrest in the
Negro Bishop Regrets Unrest
Deplores Spread of Communism Among Race
integrity to preserve the negro, Bishop Socrates A. E. O’Neil, colored
educator, is in Montgomery to combat communism and factors disturbing the
relationships of whites and blacks. Bishop O’Neil’s work has the
endorsement of national officials and governors. He insists that the
white man is the Negro’s best friend in the south and will help more
readily than the northerner.
Bishop O’Neil is an
idealist of the late Booker T. Washington. In his work he denounces
communism, interbreeding and vigorously opposes Oscar De Priest, negro
congressman, and Abbott, the Negro educator, whom he blames for the
unrest. “Stop them, stop the reds, stop miscegenation and lynching will
stop.” Bishop O’Neil asserts. . . . He is an author and lecturer. . . .51
But despite the
“Southern Terror”52 of the
white racists and their shameless use of Uncle Toms like Bishop O’Neil,
the ILD issued membership cards in Alabama and collected dues (two to
twenty cents, depending on the members’ ability to pay).53
The point is not that few joined the ILD, but that any dared join at
all. Their objective, after all, according to antagonistic reviewers, was
almost too sinister to contemplate:
The red hordes of
Communism that have swarmed into Alabama since. . . Paint Rock [where the
Scottsboro boys were removed from the train] are intent on a much greater
crime than any that might have been committed in the black gondola [open
railroad car]. They would ravish the laws and social standards that
condone racial discrimination, and bury them in the blackened ruins of
There was increased
Party activity in the South, but it never equaled that attained elsewhere
in the nation with its countless Scottsboro rallies and even a Scottsboro
March on Washington. Admittedly, on November 6, 1931, a Tampa, Florida,
Scottsboro protest attracted 3,000 and on May Day, 1934, a downtown
Birmingham park became a battleground between police and 5,000 radicals.55
These were exceptions; most of the Scottsboro rallies in the South were
much smaller. But to those who were angered by the Alabama injustice and
inspired by the Scottsboro struggle, the militant campaign evoked hope.
As a Southern Negro miner declared: “I always wanted freedom. . . . All
of us Negro miners wanted freedom, but we figured we could never get it.
When we heard of Scottsboro, that meant freedom. From then on we knew we
Much is written and
published today on the history of the Negro in America, but all too often
the authors display a narrow liberal bias. After reading some of these
works one might conclude that the struggle against racism in America is
confined to the deeds of the NAACP—the alleged vanguard organization in
that struggle. What must yet be written, difficult though it may be in a
nation whose creed is anti-Communism, is a full account of the role of
radical movements and individuals in the anti-racist struggle. Also in
order is an analysis of the basic conservatism of groups like the NAACP
when challenged by the Jeft,57
as well as the reactionary role of some prominent Negro individuals in
obstructing protest. Until such history is written, many people will
continue to believe that the struggle for freedom in America was
restricted to legal briefs, pnivate telephone calls, and secret deals.
Admittedly, such quiet exchange by “respectable” politicians and
attorneys are important, but it is mass confrontations and militant
struggles that are decisive in advancing the cause of Negro freedom. The
anti-racist vanguard in the South during the early 1930s was not the
NAACP—it was the radicals under the red banner of the International Labor
Gilbert Osofsky, The Burden of Race: A Documentary History of
Negro-White Relations in
(New York, 1967), p. 359.
Dan T. Carter, Scottsboro: A Tragedy of the American South (Baton
Ibid., pp. 7-8. Cold weather and a contingent of national
guardsmen aided in the persuasion. Indeed, the headline of one newspaper
was “Cold Wave Prevents Lynching” (Pittsburgh Courier, April 4,
Although the prosecution merely asked for a verdict of life imprisonment
in the case of the ninth, Roy Wright, whose age was either twelve,
thirteen, or fourteen, a majority of jurors were unyielding in their
demand for the death penalty. This resulted in a mistrial. (Carter,
ibid., p. 48, states that Wright was then thirteen. The New York
Times and most of the defense propaganda—including speeches by his
mother—maintained that he was fourteen. When the State of Alabama
released Roy Wright in 1937, it alleged that he had been only twelve at
the time of the “rapes.” New York Times, July 24, 1937.
Hugh T. Murray., Jr.,
“The NAACP versus the Communist Party: The
Scottsboro Rape Case, 1931-1932,” Phylon, XXVIII
(Fall. 1967), 282.
William A. Nolan, Communism Versus the Negro (Chicago, 1951), p.
Henry Lee Moon, Balance of Power: The Negro Vote (Garden City,
1948), p. 124.
Wilson Record, The Negro and the Communist Party (Chapel Hill,
1951), p. 86.
Nolan. op. cit., p. 80.
May 14, 1931. A more critical account of these neighborhood committees
which found them ineffective and limited to Party members and sympathizers
can be found in the ultra-left New York Workers Age, May 1, 1933,
and in the Militant, newspaper of the American Trotstyists,
September 19, September 26, October 17, 31, 1931; March 19, 1932; February
James W. Ford, The Negro and the Democratic Front (New York, 1938),
Henry Winston, Life Begins With Freedom (New York, 1937), pp.
Earl Browder, Communism in the
(New York, 1935), pp. 25-27.
July 5, 1931.
Indeed, in three successive issues of Labor Defender, magazine of
the ILD, there were articles on the Scottsboro case by Theodore Dreiser,
John Dos Passos and Maxim Gorki (June, July, August, 1931.
July 9, 1931; May 5,
Daniel Guerin, Negroes on the March: A Frenchman’s Report on the
American Negro Struggle, tr. and ed. by Duncan Furguson (Paris, 1951),
Walter White, How Far the Promised Land? (New York, 1955), p. 215.
Lawrence D. Reddick, “What Does the Younger Negro Think?,”
XI (October, 1933), 312.
Roger N. Baldwin, “Negro Rights and the Class Struggle,”
(September, 1934), 265.
Theodore G. Miles, review of The History of Alpha Phi Alpha: A
Development in College Life, by Charles H. Wesley, in
Journal of Negro History, XXXIX (April, 1954), 153.
December 13, 1933.
“Negro Editors on Communism: A Symposium of the American Negro Press,
Crisis, XXXIX (April, 1932), 118.
Ibid., XXXIX (May, 1932), 156.
Benjamin J. Davis, “Why I Am a Communist,” Phylon, VIII (Second
Quarter, 1947), 109.
Asbury Smith, “What Can the Negro Expect from Communism?”
XI (June, 1933), 211.
Joseph William Nicholson and Benjamin Elija Mays, The Negro’s Church
(New York, 1933), pp. 5, 9.
Record, op. cit. pp. 38, 82. Ralph Lord Roy, “Communism and the
Churches,” Communism in American Life, ed. by Clinton Rossiter (New
York, 1960), pp. 46-47.
Roy, op. cit., pp. 50-52.
Harold F. Gosnell, Negro Politicians: The Rise of Negro Politics in
Chicago (Chicago, 1935), p. 328.
Clayton Powell, Jr., Marching Blacks: An Interpretive History of the
Rise of the Black Common Man (New York, 1945), p. 69.
op. cit., p. 53.
Earl Browder, What Is Communism? (New York, 1936), p. 194.
Langston Hughes, I Wonder as I Wander (New York, 1956), pp. 60-61.
Nancy Cunard, ed., Negro Anthology, 1931-1933 (London,
1934), p. 142.
Ibid., p. 141.
Jackson Country Progressive Age (Scottsboro, Alabama) December 31,
1931. The other Scottsboro newspaper had previously denounced Contempo
and reprinted one of its articles under the heading: “Communists Start
Newspapers To Carry Propaganda . . . First Issue Devoted to Amazing and
Malicious Deception of Facts in Scottsboro Case,” (Jackson County
Sentinel, July 9, 1931).
Cunard, op. cit., p. 142.
Langston Hughes, “Cowards from the Colleges,” Crisis, VIII (August,
1934), 227. A professor and a student from a white college, Birmingham
Southern, did address a Scottsboro protest rally. For a discussion of the
consequences, see Carter, op. cit., pp. 254-58.
Miles Crenshaw and Kenneth A. Miller, Scottsboro: The Firebrand of
Communism (Montgomery, Alabama, 1936), p. 292.
Carter, op. cit. , pp. 127,153.
May 30, 1931.
April 1, 2, 3, 4, 19, 1931.
New York Daily Worker,
June 2, 1931.
Edmund Wilson, “The Freight-Car Case,” New Republic, LXVII (August
26, 1931), 42.
York Daily Worker,
June 9, 1931.
May 24, 1931.
Carter, op. cit., pp. 128-29. He described the incident in more
detail on pp. 123-28.
views of the ILD’s secretary, J. Louis Engdahl, can be found in the New
York Times, July 18, 1931. Roger Baldwin of the ACLU spoke about the
Camp Hill Incident in the New York Times, July 19, 1931. The Urban
also discussed the incident in “Communism and the Negro Tenant Farmer”
W. E. B. Du Bois, “Postscript,” Crisis, XXXVIII (September 1931),
313. [It is to be noted that while the NAACP persisted in its
anti-communism, W. E. B. Du Bois changed his position. In subsequent
years he fought the conservative leadership of the NAACP, ultimately
leaving the organization and taking his stand among the most radical
leaders of his people. After working with the Communist Party for a long
time he finally joined it in 1960 at the age of 92 and died a
July 18, 1931. For another example of the conservative nature of the
NAACP it is interesting to read in the white supremacist Jackson County
Sentinel a reprint of an editorial supporting contentions of the
NAACP’s Walter White (Jackson County Sentinal , December 31, 1931).
(Montgomery), August 13, 1931.
Louise Thompson, “Southern Terror,” Crisis, XLI (November, 1934), 329.
Crenshaw and Miller, op. cit., p. 296.
Ibid., p. 290.
November 6, 1931; may 4, 1934. For a fuller discussion of similar
activities see John Williams, “Struggles of the Thirties in the South,” in
The Negro in Depression and war: Prelude to Revolution, 1930-1945,
ed. By Bernard Sternsher (Chicago, 1969), pp. 166--178.
Nat Ross, “Some Problems of the Class Struggle in the South,” Communist,
XIV (January, 1935), 66-67.
A tentative beginning of a reappraisal can be seen in August Meier and
Elliott Rudwick, “The First Freedom Ride,” Phylon, XXX (Fall,
Posted April 15,