Hammer and Hoe: Alabama Communists during the Great Depression

Hammer and Hoe: Alabama Communists during the Great Depression

Language: English

Pages: 412

ISBN: 1469625482

Format: PDF / Kindle (mobi) / ePub


A groundbreaking contribution to the history of the "long Civil Rights movement," Hammer and Hoe tells the story of how, during the 1930s and 40s, Communists took on Alabama's repressive, racist police state to fight for economic justice, civil and political rights, and racial equality.

The Alabama Communist Party was made up of working people without a Euro-American radical political tradition: devoutly religious and semiliterate black laborers and sharecroppers, and a handful of whites, including unemployed industrial workers, housewives, youth, and renegade liberals. In this book, Robin D. G. Kelley reveals how the experiences and identities of these people from Alabama's farms, factories, mines, kitchens, and city streets shaped the Party's tactics and unique political culture. The result was a remarkably resilient movement forged in a racist world that had little tolerance for radicals.

After discussing the book's origins and impact in a new preface written for this twenty-fifth-anniversary edition, Kelley reflects on what a militantly antiracist, radical movement in the heart of Dixie might teach contemporary social movements confronting rampant inequality, police violence, mass incarceration, and neoliberalism.

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Tallapoosa County and announced that black sawmill workers and farmers in the vicinity "have enthusiastically welcomed Communist leadership." The nascent movement formulated seven basic demands, the most crucial being the continuation of food advances. The right of sharecroppers to market their own crops was also a critical issue because landlords usually gave their tenants the year's lowest price for their cotton and held on to the bales until the price increased, thus denying the producer the

propaganda among Negroes." Under the advisement of several Alabama law officers who were skeptical of Peterson's guilt, the governor agreed to hold a clemency hearing on March 6, 1934.36The appeal for clemency in lieu of freedom was unacceptable to ILD activists and equally disappoint- 90 THEUNDERGROUND ing to Henrietta Peterson, who now announced her unequivocal support for the ILD. The NAACP drew even more criticism when it agreed to have blacks barred from the clemency hearings. Offended

by the announcement, a disgruntled group of ILD members, including Henrietta Peterson, traveled to Montgomery and unsuccessfully tried to force their way into the hearings. Rebuffed by police, they instead staged a demonstration across the street.37 Amid the faint echo of ILD slogans rising from the streets below, Charles McPherson submitted an illuminating petition to the governor that summed up the political meaning of the case. Communism, not Peterson's innocence or guilt, was the issue at

ain' black-but RED! Teacher Lenin done said Brothers all oppressed an' po' Ain't it so? Sho! -"No Mo' ,No Mo' " (CP song, ca. 1930s) I n 1930, a columnist for the Daily Worker predicted that the Communist Party in the South would be composed of young whites "who are not so weighed down by the prejudices of their parents." But historical reality, as we have seen thus far, had little in common with this writer's vision of rebellious white youth leading the hitherto sleeping black masses in the

and rank-and-file committees, the Party now influenced Mine Mill from top to bottom. Some of the union's most eminent leaders in Alabama were Communists, including Mike Ross, Alton Lawrence, and Van Jones-all of whom had been either elected or appointed to union posts during the Popular Front. Mine Mill officials occasionally invited local radicals to union meetings as guest speakers, 146 * UP FROM BOLSHEVISM openly engaged in nonunion political activity, and even sent some of their

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