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Black Revolutionary

Black Revolutionary: William Patterson and the Globalization of the African American Freedom Struggle

Copyright Date: 2013
Pages: 344
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  • Book Info
    Black Revolutionary
    Book Description:

    A leading African American Communist, lawyer William L. Patterson (1891–1980) was instrumental in laying the groundwork for the defeat of Jim Crow by virtue of his leadership of the Scottsboro campaign in the 1930s. In this watershed biography, historian Gerald Horne shows how Patterson helped to advance African American equality by fostering and leveraging international support for the movement. Horne highlights key moments in Patterson's global activism: his early education in the Soviet Union, his involvement with the Scottsboro trials and other high-profile civil rights cases of the 1930s to 1950s, his 1951 We Charge Genocide petition to the United Nations, and his later work with prisons and the Black Panther Party. Through Patterson's story, Horne examines how the Cold War affected the freedom movement, with civil rights leadership sometimes disavowing African American leftists in exchange for concessions from the U.S. government. He also probes the complex and often contradictory relationship between the Communist Party and the African American community, including the impact of the FBI's infiltration of the Communist Party. Drawing from government and FBI documents, newspapers, periodicals, archival and manuscript collections, and personal papers, Horne documents Patterson's effectiveness at carrying the freedom struggle into the global arena and provides a fresh perspective on twentieth-century struggles for racial justice.

    eISBN: 978-0-252-09518-4
    Subjects: Sociology, History, Political Science

Table of Contents

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  1. Front Matter
    (pp. [i]-[iv])
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. [v]-[viii])
    (pp. 1-14)

    William L. Patterson was determined.

    It was December 17, 1951, and the bespectacled, balding, and somewhat burly black lawyer—and Communist—was in Paris on a historic mission. Following in the footsteps of Frederick Douglass, who repeatedly had taken the plight of the enslaved African to an international audience—particularly to London, Washington’s prime antagonist and the citadel of abolitionism—Patterson was in Paris making a similar appeal, but this time to all nations organized within the United Nations: he was targeting his country’s hateful Jim Crow system. Snow was falling softly, and the temperature was frigid, so he buttoned...

  4. 1 The Road to Revolution
    (pp. 15-28)

    “The story of [William Lorenzo Patterson],” said the writer, Mike Gold, was “like a tale told by some American Gorky.”¹ No, said another analyst, “his full-life story reads like an epic tale told by a Dreiser or a Tolstoy.”²

    This man of legend was born in San Francisco on August 29, 1891 (or thereabouts—his birth records perished during the 1906 earthquake). His mother was born a slave in Virginia, and his father was born in St. Vincent, a small Caribbean island. He graduated from Mt. Tamalpais High School in Marin County in 1911 and the Hastings College of Law...

  5. 2 Moscow Bound
    (pp. 29-40)

    On November 14, 1927, William Patterson—then residing at 181 West 135th Street in Harlem—was issued a U.S. passport (another was issued on April 7, 1930, in Warsaw) and journeyed across the Atlantic for Moscow. He was to reside there until late December 1929, and from that point until April 1931 he lived in Britain, France, and Germany.¹ His mission, as he put it, was to matriculate at the “University of Toiling People of the Far East,” whose student body was peppered with Chinese and Indians but also included Africans from throughout the world. “I was determined to have...

  6. 3 The World Confronts Jim Crow
    (pp. 41-54)

    When nine African American young men and boys were arrested and tried in Alabama in the spring of 1931 for allegedly molesting sexually two white women, few could envision that this would become a paradigmatic case that would transform the unfortunate plight of the Negro, while catapulting William Patterson into the front ranks of Communist and Negro leadership. In 1969, well after the full measure of this trailblazing case could be taken, Patterson said quite accurately, “Perhaps no living American knows better than I the history of the Scottsboro Case, for I lived with it sixteen of its seventeen years’...

  7. 4 Scottsboro—and Collapse
    (pp. 55-66)

    Buoyed by massive global support, the Scottsboro campaign took black America and then the nation by storm. Patterson asserted accurately in early 1934 that Scottsboro “has raised the question of international working class solidarity to its highest level. It is linking Tom Mooney and the oppressed Negro masses inseparably together.”¹ Thus, he said beamingly, “Every Negro worker and toiling slave on the land breathes freer because of the activities of the ILD,” while the “southern landlord lynchers have learned to curse its name and to dread the presence of its organizations.” The main point, he stressed, was “a new understanding...

  8. 5 Back in the USSR
    (pp. 67-78)

    Patterson returned from Havana to Harlem, and as he talked with his sister in her apartment, he found that one of his lungs had collapsed. He fainted dead away, as if this were a scene from a bad movie. He had been working too hard for years, with Cuba being the capstone of this ill-advised course. Harry Haywood and other friends and comrades insisted that he travel forthwith to the Soviet Union for treatment, as it was the only place where a Negro without money—a category that now included the once relatively affluent attorney—could get adequate medical care....

  9. 6 Black Chicago
    (pp. 79-92)

    After operating semiclandestinely in Europe and coordinating the Scottsboro campaign, being deployed to Chicago almost seemed like a demotion for Patterson. Surely, the Second City was no backwater, and given its steel mills teeming with proletarians, it was more eye-catching for a self-respecting Marxist-Leninist than a relatively less-endowed Manhattan. The simple presence of those like the well-regarded writers Richard Wright and Frank Marshall Davis (who was later to make his mark in Honolulu) was sufficient to show that Chicago was a vanguard city.¹ Still, the abjectly horrible conditions faced by the Negro working class—including many abodes bereft of water...

  10. Illustrations
    (pp. None)
  11. 7 Turning Point
    (pp. 93-108)

    The war against Hitler was entering its terminal phase, which should have been an occasion for joy, but as Patterson surveyed things in the summer of 1945 from a steamy Chicago room—30 West Washington Street—he did not seem ecstatic. “Nationally we have no program for Negro work,” he moaned, addressing his comrades, Revels Cayton—the scion of a Negro family that had soared to prominence in Seattle—and Matt Crawford, one of his closest allies, a resident of Berkeley. “We have no collective Negro leadership” either, he said of his Communist party—which would have come as a...

  12. 8 Prison Looms
    (pp. 109-124)

    William Patterson had earned his spurs in the burning crucible that was Scotts-boro, and in that environment he was able to drag the NAACP, albeit reluctantly, into a division of labor where he focused on mass organizing and they on legal wizardry. But with the rise of the Red Scare, which demonized Communists like himself as subversive agents of a foreign power, such a de facto alliance was no longer feasible. Yet there were some in the U.S. ruling elite who recognized that Jim Crow was a massive burden on national security—how could Washington credibly charge Moscow with human-rights...

  13. 9 “We Charge Genocide”
    (pp. 125-140)

    William Patterson was tempting fate as the second half of the twentieth century dawned. He was fighting ferociously with Dixiecrats in Washington and their agents throughout the Deep South, including the cockpit of bigotry that was Mississippi, preparing the battlefield for an upsurge that soon was to blossom. Yet these Dixiecrats were bolstered by a concomitant surge in anticommunism—a philosophy of which they served in the vanguard, which allowed them to suggest that they were hell-bent on bashing Patterson not because of his “blackness” but because of his “Redness.” He and the CRC—more than any others, to their...

  14. 10 “I Am a Political Prisoner”
    (pp. 141-156)

    So spoke William Patterson in December 1954, as he wasted away behinds bars in the federal prison set amidst the undulating hills of Danbury, Connecticut.¹

    He was now well into his sixties, an age when many of his peers were contemplating a well-earned retirement. But Patterson remained in the trenches taking blows—and administering a few—though, in retrospect, his punishing imprisonment had a certain inevitability.

    After all, he had reputedly besmirched the reputation of Washington while in Paris, raising difficult matters of Jim Crow as embedded in cases too numerous to mention from all parts of the land: McGee,...

  15. 11 The CP’s “FBI Faction” Rises
    (pp. 157-172)

    Forced away from the burgeoning civil-rights movement, seeking to avoid another incarceration, raising a young daughter, and trying to stay abreast of a rapidly changing global scene, the compelled death of the CRC did not necessarily lighten William Patterson’s burden as he entered a brave new world in 1956. By April 1956, the FBI found that he and his family were residing in Brooklyn at 1268 President Street and that he was “self-employed as [a] Civil Rights Consultant.”¹ Fortunately, his spouse, whose public life was not as well-defined as his, was able to find work, allowing the clan to persevere.²...

  16. 12 Fighting Back
    (pp. 173-188)

    It should have been an unremittingly delightful moment for William Patterson. He departed the United States on March 13, 1960, headed to Czechoslovakia, Hungary, the Soviet Union, and China. In these difficult times, it was a monumental victory to gain a passport. When he applied for this document, the FBI stated the obvious: “In view of the subject’s position and prominence in the Communist Party, this matter should be given preferred attention.”¹ The CP leader Elizabeth Gurley Flynn evidently thought that Patterson would not receive a passport because of lingering resentment of the genocide campaign, a prognostication that proved surprisingly...

  17. 13 Patterson and Black Power
    (pp. 189-206)

    Black America was buffeted by contradictory trends in the 1960s. On the one hand, the edifice of Jim Crow had begun to crumble, a reality that received legislative sanction in 1964 and, notably, 1965, with the passage of the Voting Rights Act. On the other hand, this victory was attained while the most sophisticated, cosmopolitan, and battle-ready fighters—W. E. B. Du Bois, Shirley Graham, Claudia Jones, Paul Robeson, Ben Davis, and William Patterson—were under attack, with courage required to associate with them. Like a cold front and a warm front colliding over the plains of Nebraska, this served...

  18. 14 Death of a Revolutionary
    (pp. 207-218)

    “May I still be called your protégé?”¹

    Such was the rather droll query put to Patterson by Dr. Carlton Goodlett, the affluent Negro publisher, medic, and political activist whose influence reached into the White House, and who maintained extensive ties to diverse strata within black America. Born in Florida in 1914, he grew up in Omaha and served as leader of the NAACP chapter in Patterson’s own San Francisco in the late 1940s. There he cooperated with the organized left²—often energetically³—even as Roy Wilkins was pointing toward a different course.⁴ Dr. Goodlett’s newspaper, the leading purveyor of news...

  19. NOTES
    (pp. 219-284)
  20. INDEX
    (pp. 285-300)
  21. Back Matter
    (pp. 301-306)