ORGANIZER 15

THE SOUTHERN CONFERENCE EDUCATIONAL FUND [THE GOOD REALITIES]  HUNTER GRAY 6/18/02

ROLE OF COMMUNIST PARTY USA IN THE SOUTHERN CIVIL RIGHTS MOVEMENT OF MID-CENTURY -- AND MOVEMENT HISTORY [THREE POSTS  BY HUNTER GRAY]

 

THE SOUTHERN CONFERENCE EDUCATIONAL FUND [THE GOOD REALITIES]  HUNTER GRAY 6/18/02

The link posted earlier this morning on ASDnet   -- "SCEF and CPUSA" -- is
simply another instance of substantive misinformation. This is the case with the post's "label" -- and the historical outline given by the link [from
whomever] is certainly replete with errors and omissions. The problems that confronted a rapidly waning SCEF in the early 1970s and beyond had nothing to do one way or the other with CPUSA -- which can certainly not be blamed for those!  These difficulties involved other  groups and issues of which I, frankly, know little.

Eldri and I, who had come into Mississippi in the ominous Summer of '61, left the South in the Summer of '67 and went into the Pacific Northwest and then, for an academic year, to Coe College in Iowa.  From 1969 to 1973, I directed the large-scale grassroots organization of block clubs and related groups [mostly Black, Puerto Rican, and Chicano] on Chicago's very bloody South/Southwest Side.  Also active in Native affairs and issues on the Northside, we organized the long-enduring, all-Indian Native American Community Organizational Training Center [of which I served for a number of years as Chair -- doing so for some time after we left Chicago.] Later, we were in Iowa again, then up-state New York, then the Navajo Nation -- and then to the Northern Plains -- and now to Idaho.  The organizing trail is very much a Romany trail.


SCEF, very broadly Left in a completely non-sectarian fashion,  grew out of
the very fine Southern Conference on Human Welfare --  a courageous and interracial group of Southern liberals and some radicals originating in the New Deal era. SCEF had its most effective period from the onset of the 1950s to the retirement of its excellent executive director, Jim Dombrowski, at the end of 1965.

During that period, its splendid newspaper, The Southern Patriot, was very
capably edited by Alfred Maund and later by the equally capable Anne Braden. [ Al Maund,  a good friend of mine, is a noted Southern writer and author of a great novel, The Big Boxcar,  and was also editor of Labor's Daily and later a key staffer of International Chemical Workers Union.]  The SCEF board was a fine interracial cross section of sensible Southern activists -- religious and labor and general social justice folk -- and its advisory committee extended into Arizona.   Aubrey Williams [a major Southern leader with a highly placed New Deal background]  served as its President for years and was later succeeded by the Reverend Fred L. Shuttlesworth of Birmingham [President of the Alabama Christian Movement for Human Rights and National Secretary of SCLC.]

My own activist links with SCEF began soon after Eldri and I arrived at
Tougaloo in the Summer of '61.  Almost immediately I became Advisor to the Jackson Youth Council of NAACP and a member of the board of directors of the Mississippi State Conference of NAACP Branches.  When we launched our historic Jackson boycott in late 1962, SCEF -- especially through Jim and Anne Braden and Carl Braden -- gave us a great deal of invaluable assistance.  The very effective Jackson Boycott Movement became, in due organizing course, the massive and historic Jackson Movement in which youth played a major role at all points. I was Chair of its Strategy Committee.

 At the conclusion of the very hard-fought, super-dramatic and extremely
sanguinary Jackson Movement era, Jim Dombrowski offered me the position of SCEF Field Organizer -- with the understanding that I could do my own thing pretty much in any way I wished.  I was pleased to accept.  We set my salary at the precise salary figure drawn  from NAACP by my  very good friend, the recently murdered Medgar Evers:  $6,500.00 with some expenses and benefits. At the same time I joined SCEF, my very good friend, Miss Ella J. Baker, founder and Advisor to SNCC [who had been SCLC's first Executive Director], accepted Jim's offer of an ongoing position as Consultant.  I was instrumental, with Jim's enthusiastic concurrence, in securing the New York law firm of Kunstler, Kunstler and Kinoy [known affectionately as KKK] as SCEF's counsel. [Bill Kunstler had already represented me in several key Mississippi cases.]

Much was certainly accomplished by SCEF during the next two years or so.  I worked in grassroots civil rights and anti-Klan organization in several very hard-core  Deep Southern areas. Ella played a critical role in liaison work with SNCC and other projects and gave me much assistance at key points. Carl Braden did a great deal of valuable, on-going work with Northern supporters -- and was much involved in Appalachian affairs.  A key fund-raising role was carried by Howard Melish.  Through The Southern Patriot, Anne Braden reported Southern civil rights news -- much of which would otherwise have been obscure -- to a national and international audience and gave much media-linkage assistance to  a wide variety of grassroots civil rights projects.

Jim Dombrowski, severely crippled by illness [but he marched in the SCLC
demonstrations at Danville, Virginia], continued to very capably hold down
the SCEF national office on 822 Perdido Street, New Orleans.  [My old
Chicano Mine-Mill companeros were always intrigued by that address since it, of course, translates into "Nowhere."]  During this period, we were constantly Red-baited and attacked on many fronts -- including the notorious Louisiana Un-American Activities Committee/State Police raid on the New Orleans SCEF office in October 1963, the arrest of Jim and two other SCEF officials, the seizure of the SCEF records -- and their illegal shipment by train into Mississippi where they were then taken by Mississippi Senator Jim Eastland and his U.S. Senate Internal Security Subcommittee.  SCEF sued and, in 1965, won a total victory at the USSC level:  Dombrowski v. Pfister.


At the end of 1965, Jim retired as SCEF director and Anne and Carl Braden
became co-directors.  At the point Jim retired, Ella and I both left.  She,
of course, continued to work with SNCC and related projects and I continued my organizing work in the South -- in radical grassroots anti-poverty activism [much support from Highlander Research and Education Center.]  Ella and I and Jim kept in very close touch, always, both during this period and thereafter all the way through.  Jim died at New Orleans in 1983 and Ella passed away in NYC in 1986. I miss them much indeed.

After our departure, SCEF hired a much larger number of staff people than
had formerly been the case -- essentially on subsistence "Movement wages." In time, internal difficulties developed.

The major SCEF papers are at State Historical Society of Wisconsin:  Jim's
collected papers, those of the Bradens, and mine.  [My papers are also held by Mississippi Department of Archives and History.]  An excellent biography of Jim was done by another good friend of mine and I strongly recommend it: Frank Adams'  James A. Dombrowski: An American Heretic [Knoxville, University of Tennessee Press, 1992.]

I have a fair amount of material on SCEF organizationally at our large
website www.hunterbear.org  -- stemming from our part of its extremely
productive period -- and a good deal relating to my own work as SCEF Field
Organizer.  It all starts at this point http://www.hunterbear.org/creative.htm

Fraternally -

Hunter Gray  [ Hunterbear ]
www.hunterbear.org  ( strawberry socialism )
Protected by Na´shdo´i´ba´i´


ROLE OF COMMUNIST PARTY USA IN THE SOUTHERN CIVIL RIGHTS MOVEMENT OF MID-CENTURY -- AND MOVEMENT HISTORY [THREE POSTS  BY HUNTER GRAY]

# 1  From ASDnet [copy to various lists]:   June 12, 2002

I am extremely cautious about most of the people, academic or otherwise, who comment  knowingly and often superciliously on the Southern Civil Rights Movement but who were never actually there -- and, in some instances, have absolutely no personal cognizance of the great epoch.  There is no evidence to connect  Jack O'Dell [Hunter Pitts O'Dell], an aide of Martin King with the Communist Party, nor anything to indicate any viable connection between another King aide, Stanley Levison, and the CPUSA.

But, so what?

One excellent academic who spent a vast amount of time on the Movement -- with his major focus on its venomous FBI attackers -- is Professor Kenneth O'Reilly, History, University of Alaska. Among his very solid works is Racial Matters: The FBI's Secret File on Black America -- 1960-1972  [New York:  The Free Press, 1989.]

He states, on page 135:  "In reality, there were few ties between the
Communist party and the civil rights movement and only one dusty connection [Stanley Levison] serious enough to give reasonable men pause."

I recommend Ken's fine book -- 456 pages -- with which I, among many others, had some considerable involvement.  It's not hard at all to find.

===================================================================

[With respect to me -- then John R Salter, Jr -- he includes this
interesting paragraph which I'll take anytime as a solid character reference [page 110]:

The FBI described Salter as "a chronic complainant," a "determined,
belligerent, and confused young man . . .[who] obviously does not like the
FBI, having without a doubt been influenced by the writings of LOWENTHAL" -- referring to the only critical book on the FBI written during the depths of the domestic cold war.  ]

====================================================================

And, in the end, what in Hell did it matter if someone had a connection with the CPUSA?  Or, if they do right now?

In an earlier era, the CPUSA -- along with the Socialist Party and other
groups -- made very significantly positive contributions in the struggle for
civil rights, civil liberties and industrial  and sharecropper unionism Down
Behind the Cotton Curtain.  All of those people risked their lives and
hides -- just like many, many of us did in the early and mid-'60s.

Our real enemies in Dixie were pervasive and strangling economic
exploitation and hideous racism and murderous violence -- and the so-called "lawmen" [including FBI]  and the Citizens Councils and the Klans,
Americans for the Preservation of the White Race and the Birchers, etc. et al.

Jack O'Dell and Stanley Levison -- like virtually everyone who really
soldiered in that Great Freedom War -- were very fine people indeed.
Red-baiting then was a sorry and vicious thing -- and now it's a sick thing
as well.

Fraternally -

Hunter Gray  [ Hunterbear ]
www.hunterbear.org  ( strawberry socialism )
Protected by Na´shdo´i´ba´i´



#2  From ASDnet [copy to various lists]  June 12, 2002

A little more on this ASDnet issue, Leo [Casey], and that's it.  My great companion, my half-Bobcat is in heat, wants her walk, and there's always the rather remote chance that a male Bobcat will jump forth from the close-by cedars and provide the kittens we'd really like.  We may have to find someone who has a male Bobcat at stud -- but I'll still try the wild route.  I doubt there's anyone else on ASDnet, or any of these lists, who's dealing at this time with this kind of challenge.

The issue of historical writing -- and as it pertains to the Southern
Movement -- is certainly worth some of my time at this point.

Taylor Branch, frankly, is not considered a "leading historian" of the
Southern Movement by academic historians or Movement people -- nor  is he even viewed as a historian of any kind.  His stuff is a Washington Post
journalist's account, full of errors and omissions [some inadvertent and
some political]  -- and he focuses, without really knowing much about the
man in depth,  pretty much on Martin King.  He also, and very carefully,
avoids any really direct challenge to the liberal establishment. Since he's
pro-Kennedy, Branch tried, some of us feel, to at least obliquely use the
vague and wispy  "charges of Communism" against  Jack O'Dell and Stanley Levison to half-way justify Robert Kennedy's sorry  covert work with J. Edgar Hoover against Dr King.

 His first book -- Parting the Waters --  with a good deal of pr hype, did
float for awhile -- but quite properly incurred much criticism from Movement vets and established Movement historians.  His second book flopped almost immediately.

David Garrow, of course, is in an entirely different  and far higher
dimension.  He's a trained and careful and thoroughly honorable historian
and person.  Much of his work is indeed solid. But I think,  strongly, as do
others, that in his case -- and several comparable ones --   some
significant things were missed or/and misread since he was never in any
sense a Movement participant.  There are things you pick up, you absorb,
from actually being submerged in a Cause and all of its steamy and chaotic interaction year-after-year that can never been even remotely approximated in a years-later academic setting.

Garrow's stuff is well worth reading and keeping -- but always with an
awareness that other perspectives are needed.  [Garrow commented very
nicely, BTW, about my own book, Jackson Mississippi, around the Spring of 1990 or so,  in an interesting article of his in The Progressive dealing
with Movement writing -- calling JM one of the best community-based Movement studies and one that should be much better known than it was.  I'm genuinely appreciative.]

 Ken O'Reilly, the historian based at University of Alaska, who I mentioned
a little earlier this afternoon, spent, as his primary "vocation" as we
somewhat Catholics [O'Reilly, Casey I assume, and Gray] would put it, years and years of intricate study on the FBI's attacks on the Movement.  This was his principal thing and he pursued it with intensity and -- albeit  with sometime good humour --   in a very focused fashion.  He went through an enormous amount of Movement material -- including a whole slew of FOIA-secured FBI files [including mine.]  And he came, again as I indicated a bit ago, to the conclusion in his massive [456 page] and extremely detailed Racial Matters: The FBI's Secret File on Black America -- 1960-1972 [New York:  The Free Press, 1989]  that:

 "In reality, there were few ties between the Communist party and the civil rights movement and only one dusty connection [Stanley Levison] serious enough to give reasonable men pause." [Page 135]

One of the newly developed mines that came even in the several years
following much of Garrow's work, has been this great array of FOIA-recovered FBI files of Movement activists -- and also, very importantly, a large number of very rich oral histories [ Social Action Collection at State
Historical Society of Wisconsin, Southern Historical Collection at UNC,
Mississippi Department of Archives and History, Martin Luther King Center at Atlanta, and many more indeed.]  In addition, there have been many donations of papers by Movement activists -- and also more books by Movement people. Garrow certainly used what he could. But somewhat newer historians, such as O'Reilly and John Dittmer and others, have been able to use these resources to the hilt. Taylor Branch, who could have, used relatively little of any of this stuff.

Berta Green, from New York City, and a great person, was a Trotskyist.  She set up the very effective and  very broadly Left defense committee for the framed up and railroaded victims of the Monroe, North Carolina situation -- where a sensibly armed Black community repelled a substantial attack from heavily armed Klansmen in 1961.  She asked me to serve on that committee -- Committee to Aid the Monroe Defendants -- and I was delighted to do so.  All sorts of traveling visitors came to our home and stayed for a day or two or three: many fellow Movement activists, all kinds of  radicals, liberal and left journalists, FOR students of non-violence et al.  One visitor, who came twice, was a very nice person, George Meyers, National Labor Secretary of CPUSA -- who was interested in "What's happening down here?" and we filled him in, and fed him, as we did everyone.  He was an excellent gardener up in
Baltimore -- and visited with Eldri on that topic far into the night while
I, an early riser who had to hit the road at dawn, sacked in early.

A couple of final points:

It's a bit odd to hear a DSA'er [yourself] disparage the "on the scene"
civil rights experiences and insights of anyone -- but certainly someone
like myself who is a trained sociologist, who entered the Southern Movement as an already experienced but  politically unaffiliated Leftist, and who was extremely involved in those major, highly significant six Dixie years in which I soldiered. That era -- '61 well into '67 -- marked the major Movement high water period and great transition in the hard-core South.  You learn things, consciously and unconsciously about a Movement [and about oneself] in a six year red-hot Crucible that you'll never find anywhere else -- and certainly not in a university library or in any archive. It is like military combat in many ways.  Or, too, like forest fire fighting.

My other point is to simply reiterate that, in those intense and
blood-dimmed and very, very turbulent years, I never met anyone who was CPUSA in the Southern Movement.  There is no reason to believe that, had they been there, they'd have been anything except sensitive and receptive to the will of the Movement.  But no outside group of any kind -- any kind at all -- could have "controlled" or "dominated" or even "influenced" something as wild and chaotic as the Great Southern Movement.  Martin King knew that very well indeed.  "There go my people," he often said, "and I must run to catch up with them."

He said it well and very accurately.  It was a hell of a great River -- a
River of No Return.

Yours In The Faith - Hunterbear

Hunter Gray  [ Hunterbear ]
www.hunterbear.org  ( strawberry socialism )
Protected by Na´shdo´i´ba´i´


----- Original Message -----
From: "Leo Casey" <LeoCasey@aol.com>
To: <asdnet@igc.topica.com>
Sent: Wednesday, June 12, 2002 7:34 PM
Subject: RE: [ASDnet] O'Dell and Levison of SCLC [and "Communism"]


> David Garrow and Taylor Branch are the two leading historians of the
> American civil rights movement, and both write from a perspective
> completely sympathetic to the movement. Garrow dedicated a whole   book to the subject under discussion here. But we are supposed to ignore their research, and the evidence they supply for their conclusions, on behalf of an argument that can only say "I was there." I don't think so.
>
> Leo Casey
>


#3  From ASDnet [copy to various lists]  June 13, 2002


Nathan Newman's short post of this morning leads me to make a few final
comments.  I covered matters relating the Southern Movement and the
Communist Party USA  rather thoroughly yesterday and suggest that, if you didn't read those carefully -- do.

I have organized [often teaching in conjunction with that] very effectively
from about 1955 to the present moment. When I came into the South in '61, I was already a reasonably  well established, ecumenically-oriented
independent Left radical. I was also and still am a  person who has no
problem at all with people being members of the Communist Party USA -- or most other radical groups.

 I worked very actively and with great intensity in the Southern Movement from 1961 well into 1967.  And I worked in many challenging sections of the South, worked with a wide variety of organizations, went to many many meetings, and met countless Southern Movement civil rights people at all levels. From the time I entered the South, I maintained close relations with the excellent left-wing Southern Conference Educational Fund [ the rechristened Southern Conference on Human Welfare], whose New Orleans-based director was an old friend, Jim Dombrowski --  and, for a very significant stretch of important time, I served  as SCEF Field Organizer. SCEF overlapped with SCLC and SNCC and had excellent relations with Highlander as well.  [My very large website  www.hunterbear.org has much material from my Southern work as well as from my other organizing campaigns since the mid-1950s.  I have also lectured and taught extensively on all of this, written a great deal -- including a well-received book, given a number of extensive oral histories, contributed my collected papers etc.]

In all of that time, I met no one -- in the Southern Movement -- who was
known to me as a member of CPUSA. There were older people, in the Movement, who had been CP members [including some of the older Guild lawyers] -- but who were, for whatever reasons, no longer. [I don't ask questions.] There were, I'm sure, CPUSA members sprinkled in some of the larger Southern cities -- but there weren't really a great many CPUSA members anywhere in the United States itself by 1960.

Unbelievably cruel repression from the late '40s onward and profound
factionalism [e.g., 1957] had taken their grim toll.  CPUSA certainly was
involved in things in other parts of the country -- on civil rights speaking
trips outside the South, I would occasionally meet their people at
gatherings, along with all sorts of other supporters -- but the CPUSA had
lost its base in the South by the time the [relatively] contemporary
Southern Movement emerged in the late '50s.

 In the brutally repressive atmosphere engendered by the Cold War, the CP units that were more isolated and less secure were the first to break up or their remnants driven "underground".  That included, for example, Arizona [when I was still in high school] and it certainly included the basic South.

Jack Newfield [of Village Voice] came out with an interesting book about
1967:  A Prophetic Minority: the American New Left. This, among other
things, makes the point that CPUSA entered the '60s with no involvement in the Southern struggle and did not develop any.  Whatever his ideological perspective, that's an accurate assessment.

There were some Trotskyists in the South during the Movement period and, as I mentioned yesterday, I worked with the very fine Berta Green [of New York] as a member of her broadly left Committee to Aid the Monroe Defendants. Progressive Labor made a few efforts to build a Southern base but got absolutely nowhere.  We enjoyed having George Meyers, National Labor Secretary of CPUSA, as our houseguest on two occasions -- but he came only as one of many visitors seeking to learn "What's happening?"

No one that I knew anywhere in the Southern Movement then saw Jack O'Dell or Stanley Levison as then being Communists -- during the basic  period of the Southern Movement [late '50s well into the '60s.]

Yesterday, my initial post on this matter said this early on -- and I had to
repeat it a couple of times thereafter:

"In an earlier era, the CPUSA -- along with the Socialist Party and other
groups -- made very significantly positive contributions in the struggle for
civil rights, civil liberties and industrial  and sharecropper unionism Down
Behind the Cotton Curtain.  All of those people risked their lives and
hides -- just like many, many of us did in the early and mid-'60s."
[Hunterbear]

What's the lesson in all of this?  I'll mention two.

First, it's very regrettable that there were so few "bridge people" between
the older Left with its vast reservoir of experience and insight -- and that
Left which emerged as the Sixties progressed.  I had the perspective of
old-time Wobblies and industrial union vets of the Rocky Mountain setting -- but I was still relatively young myself when I entered Mississippi in that
ominous Summer of '61.  Hopefully, next time around -- which is much upon us now -- we'll have all sorts of sensibly manifested Lines Across the Years. We all need each other more than ever before.

Secondly, back in May, I posted a piece on Red Scares and civil liberties in
the context of our rapidly burgeoning and hideous current crisis.  Here are
two of my paragraphs from that piece of mine -- and, with those, I shall
close:

==================================================================

"But civil libertarian approaches back in the Last Red Scare could often be
very dangerously relativistic in many quarters: Communists -- and
Trotskyists -- were among those frequently consigned to limbo and left to
fend for themselves by the civil liberties "respectables", as were often
those simply alleged to be CPUSA or SWP. In some instances, renegade
academics such as Sidney Hook, pandering to the witch-hunting forces, took the position that CPs, for example, had no right to teach and should be given no civil liberties protection whatsoever. This was more than a
slippery slope. It proved to be a skid road right over the very steep
canyon wall. The ACLU copped out badly in those years -- leading to the
formation, by Harvey O'Connor and Corliss Lamont and others, of the
effective Emergency Civil Liberties Committee [later the National Emergency Civil Liberties Committee.]

Organize, fight, and continue organizing and fighting -- on all fronts -- is
the only way in which these dark, stifling clouds and their lethal lightning
can ever be driven from the sky: hopefully forever. But this time around,
let's hope that "an injury to one is an injury to all" has really genuine
flesh and bones and feathers on it -- and teeth in it! -- and produces
effective and supportive action to all victims of the witch-hunters, whoever and whatever they are. "  Hunter [Hunterbear]
==================================================================

Fraternally and In Solidarity -

Hunter Gray  [ Hunterbear ]
www.hunterbear.org  ( strawberry socialism )
Protected by Na´shdo´i´ba´i´

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