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Black Revolutionary

William Patterson and the Globalization of the African American Freedom Struggle

Gerald Horne

Publication Year: 2013

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.

Published by: University of Illinois Press


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pp. 1-3

Title Page

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pp. 4-5


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pp. v-vi

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pp. 1-14

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— ...

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1. The Road to Revolution

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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 ...

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2. Moscow Bound

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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 ...

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3. The World Confronts Jim Crow

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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. ...

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4. Scottsboro—and Collapse

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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 ...

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5. Back in the USSR

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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. ...

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6. Black Chicago [Illustrations follow page 92]

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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. ...

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7. Turning Point

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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, ...

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8. Prison Looms

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pp. 109-124

William Patterson had earned his spurs in the burning crucible that was Scottsboro, 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, ...

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9. "We Charge Genocide"

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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. ...

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10. "I Am a Political Prisoner"

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pp. 141-156

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. ...

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11. The CP's "FBI Faction" Rises

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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. ...

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12. Fighting Back

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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: ...

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13. Patterson and Black Power

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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— ...

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14. Death of a Revolutionary

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pp. 207-218

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. ...


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pp. 219-284


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pp. 285-300

E-ISBN-13: 9780252095184
Print-ISBN-13: 9780252037924

Page Count: 344
Publication Year: 2013