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Sandra Opdycke

labor leader and Communist Party official, was born James William Foursche in Pratt City, Alabama, the son of Lyman Foursche, a steelworker, and Nancy Reynolds, a domestic. Not long after his birth the family began to use a new surname when a white policeman questioning his father insisted that “Foursche” was too difficult to spell and changed the name to Ford. The most traumatic experience of Ford's boyhood was the lynching of his grandfather, a Georgia railroad worker. Ford started work at thirteen, joining his father at the Tennessee Coal, Iron and Railroad Company, where he worked as a water boy, mechanic's helper, and then steam-hammer operator. Nevertheless, he managed to complete high school.

Entering Fisk University at the age of twenty, Ford excelled in his studies and in athletics, but when America entered World War I in 1917 he withdrew from college to serve in ...

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Glenn Allen Knoblock

a leading black Communist leader in the 1920s, was born in Texas. He attended the Tuskegee Institute in Alabama and also claimed to have been kicked out of the City College of New York for radicalism. In the late teens he was active in organized left-wing politics, including the Industrial Workers of the World (IWW) and the Harlem Socialist Party (SP). While the IWW fought for the rights of all workers, including racial and national minorities, the SP was color-blind and refused to champion the rights of blacks specifically, and instead argued that blacks were subject to class, but not-race, oppression. A core of Harlem Socialists, however—including Richard Benjamin Moore, Otto Huiswoud, Cyril Valentine Briggs, A. Philip Randolph, Chandler Owen, and Grace Campbell were active in the New Negro movement of black radicalism and attempted to combine the struggles for socialism and black freedom ...

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Steven J. Niven

sharecropper and communist martyr, was born in Tallapoosa County, Alabama, a white majority county in the state's eastern piedmont. One of fifteen children, Gray was born into a family with a strong radical tradition. His father, whose name and occupation are unknown, was the son of Alfred Gray, an African American state legislator in Perry County, Alabama, during Reconstruction who famously vowed to fight for the Constitution “until hell freezes over.” A critic of both white racism and the inadequacy of the Freedmen's Bureau, Alfred Gray recognized that his outspoken militancy came at a price. “I may go to hell,” he told an interracial gathering in Uniontown in 1868 my home is hell but the white man shall go there with me Kelley 39 Ralph Gray who was only one year old when Reconstruction ended in Alabama grew up hearing stories of his grandfather s radicalism But ...

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Christine Dureau

poet, journalist, political activist, and Cuba's poet laureate, was born Nicolás Cristóbal Guillén y Batista in Camagüey, Cuba. His parents were of mixed African and Spanish descent; his father, a journalist and progressive senator, was murdered in 1917 while protesting against the conservative president Mario García Menocal.

Briefly a law student at the University of Havana, Nicolás soon left to become a journalist. He took after his father in populism and protest. Cuban society was victimized by sequential regimes of repression and oppression. Guillén was among the worst hit, due to his increasingly socialist ideology. His first poems and antiestablishment articles were published in the early 1920s. He and editors of the Mediodía newspaper were briefly jailed in 1936.

He joined the Communist Party. In 1937 he traveled to Spain for the Congress of Writers and Artists while doubling as a correspondent on ...

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Eric W. Petenbrink

political theorist, was born Haywood Hall in South Omaha, Nebraska, the youngest of three children of Haywood Hall, a factory worker and janitor, and Harriet Thorpe Hall. When he was fifteen, racist violence in Omaha prompted the family to move to Minneapolis, Minnesota, where Hall soon dropped out of school and began working as a railroad dining car waiter. In 1915 the family moved to Chicago, Illinois, to be near extended family, and Hall enlisted in the military in 1917. He served in World War I for a year as part of an all-black unit in France, where he grew accustomed to the absence of racism. Hall married his first wife, Hazel, in 1920, but the marriage lasted only a few months. In spite of their lengthy separation, they did not officially divorce until 1932.

Hall s experiences in World War I and defending ...

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Charles Rosenberg

a singer who lived for over thirty years in Russia, both under Tsar Nicholas and during the first decades of the Soviet Union, was born in Augusta, Georgia, according to her 1901 passport application. Some accounts give her year of birth as 1870. Multiple passport applications give 1875. Census records suggest she may have been the daughter of John and Ann Harris, who in 1880 were illiterate tenant farmers in Carnesville, Franklin County, northwest of Augusta. The subsequent history of her older brothers, Andrew J. and Henry Harris, and younger sister Lulu, are unknown.

In 1892Harris married Joseph B. Harris (no relation), moving with him to Brooklyn, where she worked as a domestic and directed a Baptist church choir. She went to Europe in May 1901 as a member of the “Louisiana Amazon Guards,” a singing group assembled by the German promoter Paule ...

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Charles H. Martin

Communist organizer and political prisoner, was born in the tiny southern Ohio town of Wyoming, the son of Paul Herndon, a coal miner. His mother, Harriet, was of a mixed-race background and worked as a domestic. According to an early version of Herndon's autobiography, his name was recorded in the family Bible as Eugene Angelo Braxton Herndon. During Herndon's youth, the family experienced poverty, which grew worse after his father died. Fundamentalist Christianity helped family members endure such hard times, and at the age of nine Herndon underwent a deep religious experience and joined a local church. Shortly after he turned thirteen, Herndon and an older brother left home for Kentucky, where they worked in a coal mine for a while before heading farther south to Alabama.

Over the next several years Herndon found employment at various construction and mining sites in the Birmingham area though ...

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Brynley A. Lloyd-Bollard

union leader and Communist Party organizer, was born in Wilkes County, Georgia, the first of two sons of Thomas Hudson and Laura Camella Smith, sharecroppers. After three years of a stormy marriage, Laura left Thomas and took their two children a few miles west to Oglethorpe County to live with her parents George and Julia Smith, her sister Georgia Mae, and her brother Ned.

Life in a poor sharecropping family in the Georgian Black Belt was difficult and several terrifying episodes left Hudson traumatized at an early age Not least of these occurred when a lynch mob of men on horseback came to Hudson s home one night and demanded the surrender of Uncle Ned who accused by one of the men of talking about his sister was being framed by a white employer who owed Ned money Luckily Hudson s grandmother was able to ...

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Glenn Allen Knoblock

American Communist Party activist, was born in Paramaribo, Suriname, the son of Rudolf Francis Huiswoud, a freed slave and tailor, and his wife, Jacqueline Hendrietta (Bernhard). After apprenticing as a printer and cabinet maker, Huiswould decided to seek a career at sea. Originally intending to travel to the Netherlands in pursuit of that goal, he instead disembarked in New York, entering the U.S. illegally in 1910 aged 17.

During the First World War Huiswoud joined the Harlem Socialist Party (SP) along with other “New Negro” radicals including Grace Campbell, Lovett Fort-Whiteman, Chandler Owen, A. Philip Randolph, and Richard B. Moore In general the American SP ignored the oppression of black people at worst supporting segregation and at best arguing that blacks were subject only to class and not race oppression However the Harlem branch uniquely among Socialists attempted to develop a Socialist program ...

Article

Charles Rosenberg

forged a militant commitment to black liberation within a lifelong allegiance to the international socialist movement. In a 1980 interview, the only source of information on his childhood, Kilpatrick said he had been born in Colorado in 1898 to a Native American father (possibly of partly African descent) and a mother who had been enslaved in Kentucky. Information from his Ohio death certificate shows his birth around 1905. Kilpatrick consistently used the birth date of 28 February 1904 for travel by ship to and from Europe in the 1930s. The family moved to Cleveland when he was about six years old, where his father got work for McKerrigan McKinley Steel, which became part of Republic Steel. His father was a socialist and a member of the Industrial Workers of the World (IWW), which young Admiral joined in his teenage years.

He absorbed from his father and other black IWW ...

Article

Brian Gilmore

civil rights lawyer and activist, was born in Newport, Rhode Island. Lynn was one of seven children of Nette (Irving) Lynn, a domestic worker, and Joseph Lynn, a laborer. Lynn's parents were originally from Augusta, Georgia. They had been married in 1904 and migrated north in 1906 when their multimillionaire employer also moved north. Eventually they came to live in Rockville Centre, on New York's Long Island, where they settled in a black ghetto set in a swampy lowland. The mortality rate in Lynn's neighborhood was very high, but even though he was a somewhat sickly young child, he survived.

In 1926 Lynn graduated from Malverne High School as its salutatorian His academic skills were so exceptional that Syracuse University awarded him a debating scholarship With funds raised partially from a bake sale the mothers club of Lynn s high school presented Lynn s mother with ...

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Erik S. McDuffie

black nationalist, was born Audley Moore, the daughter of St. Cyr Moore and Ella Hunter, in New Iberia, Louisiana, a small town near New Orleans. As a young child, she heard stories about her maternal grandfather being lynched, her paternal grandmother being raped by a slave master, and her father being forcibly removed from his position as deputy sheriff by whites. Yet her family instilled in her a strong sense of racial pride and resistance.

By 1914, with only a fourth-grade education, Moore was obliged to take care of her younger sisters, Eloise and Lorita They moved to New Orleans where she worked as a domestic and hairdresser and learned firsthand the drudgery of the black urban working class life Moore and her sisters moved to Anniston Alabama a highly segregated town during World War I Eloise Moore established a recreation center for black soldiers ...

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Ian Rocksborough-Smith

civil rights, peace, and social justice organizer, and writer, was born Hunter Pitts O'Dell on the west side of Detroit, Michigan. Jack's parents were George Edwin O'Dell and Emily (Pitts) O'Dell. His father was a hotel and restaurant worker in Detroit who later owned a restaurant in Miami, Florida. His mother had studied music at Howard University and became an adult education teacher, a classical and jazz pianist, and an organist for Bethel AME Church in Detroit. His grandfather, John H. O'Dell, was a janitor in the Detroit Public Library system and a member of the Nacirema Club, which was a club for prominent African American Detroiters. Jack O'Dell later took his grandfather's signature, “J.H. O'Dell” as his nom de plume when he became a writer.

Raised by his paternal grandparents O Dell grew up during the Great Depression and witnessed the sit down ...

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Carol Polsgrove

writer and Pan-Africanist, was born Malcolm Ivan Meredith Nurse in Arouca, Trinidad, the son of James Hubert Alfonso Nurse, a teacher, and Anna Susanna Symister of Antigua. In Port-of-Spain he attended Tranquillity School and St. Mary's College of the Immaculate Conception before graduating from Pamphylian High School in 1918. As a reporter of shipping news for the Weekly Guardian, he saw in the arrogant treatment the white editor meted out to a black assistant editor the future that lay in store for him. In 1924 he traveled to the United States with the declared intention of studying medicine. His wife, Julia Semper, joined him later, leaving behind their daughter, Blyden.

In the United States Nurse evolved quickly into a political leader While a student at Fisk University in Nashville Tennessee he wrote to Nnamdi Ben Azikiwe a Nigerian studying at Storer College in West ...

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Harvey Klehr

Communist Party leader, was born near Marion, Alabama, on a tenant farm worked by his parents, whose names are unknown. His father died when Perry was a small child, and he was raised by his uncle, Stokes King, and an aunt. He attended a rural school sporadically, receiving about fifteen months of formal education. By the time he was ten, he was working in the cotton fields. He moved on to a sawmill and then a pipe foundry before deciding to leave the South when he was eighteen.

Perry embarked on the life of an itinerant worker, traveling around the United States in search of work. He reached California in 1920 and used it as his base for the next twelve years Most winters he worked at a cottonseed oil mill in Los Angeles In the summers he went on the road as a harvest hand following ...

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Erik S. McDuffie

cultural and political radical, activist, and feminist, was born Louise Alone Toles in Chicago, the daughter of William Toles, a bartender, and Lula Brown Toles. In 1904 Louise's parents separated, and in the next ten years she lived throughout the Northwest with her mother and her stepfather, William Thompson. Often the only black child in town, Louise was the target of vicious racial insults. In an effort to maintain her self-respect she strove to excel in school. In 1919 she enrolled at the University of California at Berkeley. There she attended a lecture by W. E. B. Du Bois a founder of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People For the first time in my life she recalled I was proud to be black Du Bois s talk prompted Thompson to dream of traveling to New York City and becoming involved ...

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Michael James

educator, community and civil rights activist, was born Doxey Alphonse Wilkerson in Excelsior Springs, Missouri, the son of a Methodist minister and a civic-minded mother. As was the case with many Jim Crow–era black families looking for avenues to further their children's education, Wilkerson's father moved his family from Excelsior Springs thirty miles west to Kansas City, so his son could benefit from a larger public educational system. Ironically, the year of Wilkerson's birth, the Kansas legislature enacted statutes that created segregated schools in Kansas City. After graduating from Sumner High School, Wilkerson attended the University of Kansas where he received a bachelor's degree in English in 1926 and his master's in Education in 1927 That same year he was hired as an assistant professor of English and secondary education at Virginia State College in Petersburg Virginia He quickly became known as a quiet but forceful advocate for ...