Radicalism at the Crossroads
African American Women Activists in the Cold War
Publication Year: 2011
With the exception of a few iconic moments such as Rosa Parks's 1955 refusal to move to the back of a Montgomery bus, we hear little about what black women activists did prior to 1960. Perhaps this gap is due to the severe repression that radicals of any color in America faced as early as the 1930s, and into the Red Scare of the 1950s. To be radical, and black and a woman was to be forced to the margins and consequently, these women's stories have been deeply buried and all but forgotten by the general public and historians alike.
In this exciting work of historical recovery, Dayo F. Gore unearths and examines a dynamic, extended community of black radical women during the early Cold War, including established Communist Party activists such as Claudia Jones, artists and writers such as Beulah Richardson, and lesser-known organizers such as Vicki Garvin and Thelma Dale. These women were part of a black left that laid much of the groundwork for both the Civil Rights Movement of the 1960s and later strains of black radicalism. Radicalism at the Crossroads offers a sustained and in-depth analysis of the political thought and activism of black women radicals during the Cold War period and adds a new dimension to our understanding of this tumultuous and violent time in United States history.
Published by: NYU Press
Title Page, Copyright
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I began research for this book many years ago with a grainy microfilm copy of Paul Robeson’s Freedom newspaper. In the course of this project’s transformation from an intriguing archival find into a book, I have relied on the support and generosity of many individuals, friends, colleagues, archivists, and institutions. ...
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The work of black women radicals overflowed from the pages of the newspaper Freedom.2 The author Alice Childress’s regular fictional column, “Conversations from Life,” employed humor and pointed political insights in chronicling the everyday struggles, labor, and resistance of Mildred, a black domestic worker. ...
1 Forging a Community of Radical Intellectuals and Activists: Black Women, the Black Left, and the Communist Party USA in the 1930s and 1940s
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In 1926, ten-year-old Victoria “Vicki” Holmes (Garvin) moved with her mother, father, and younger sister from their hometown of Richmond, Virginia, to New York City. Although Garvin’s parents had stable employment in Richmond—her father, Wallace Holmes, as a plasterer in a black trade union and her mother as a domestic worker—they hoped that a move north would provide better opportunities and education for their daughters.1 ...
2 In Defense of Black Womanhood: Race, Gender, Class, and the Politics of Interracial Solidarity, 1945–1951
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On July 1, 1951, Beulah Richardson, a young poet and activist, took the stage at the Women’s Workshop of the American People’s Peace Congress, in Chicago. The workshop, organized by American Women for Peace (AWP), had more than five hundred women in attendance as Richardson read from her poem, “A Black Woman Speaks . . . of White Womanhood, of White Supremacy, of Peace.” ...
3 Reframing Civil Rights Activism during the Cold War: The Rosa Lee Ingram Case, 1948–1959
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In August 1951, Yvonne Gregory boarded a train in New York City headed to Americus, Georgia, in the heart of the Jim Crow South. This young black woman, a noted writer and staff member at Paul Robeson’s Freedom newspaper, was traveling to the home of Rosa Lee Ingram, who lived just outside Americus. ...
4 Race and Gender at Work: From the Labor Journalism of Marvel Cooke to Vicki Garvin and the National Negro Labor Council, 1935–1956
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Thunderous applause greeted Vicki Garvin as she rose to issue the opening remarks at the National Negro Labor Council’s (NNLC) founding convention, on October 27, 1951, in Cincinnati. “We are making history here today,” Garvin proclaimed, as the first official speaker of the meeting that brought together more than one thousand black and white labor activists. ...
5 From Freedom to Freedomways: Black Women Radicals and the Black Freedom Movement in the 1960s and 1970s
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Vicki Garvin’s conviction that the NNLC had lent “fuel and drive” to a new phase of the black freedom movement would be borne out in the ensuing decades. Garvin and the community of women that came together around Freedom and the NNLC witnessed the upsurge in black protest and radical resistance not from the sidelines but as key contributors to ongoing political struggles. ...
Conclusion: Centering Black Women on the Left
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As I began working on this project, I called Vicki Garvin for the first of several telephone interviews. After I described my interests in writing about the black left during the Cold War, Garvin, assuming that I wanted to hear about her ties to and the contributions of well-known black radical men, immediately began to recount her memories of working with “tremendous” leading men...
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About the Author
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Dayo F. Gore is an assistant professor of women, gender, sexuality studies at the University of Massachusetts at Amherst. She is the co-editor of Want to Start a Revolution? Radical Women in the Black Freedom Struggle (NYU Press, 2009).
Page Count: 240
Publication Year: 2011