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Black Communist in the Freedom Struggle

The Life of Harry Haywood

Harry Haywood

Publication Year: 2012

Mustering out of the U.S. army in 1919, Harry Haywood stepped into a battle that was to last the rest of his life. Within months, he found himself in the middle of one of the bloodiest race riots in U.S. history and realized that he’d been fighting the wrong war—the real enemy was right here at home. This book is Haywood’s eloquent account of coming of age as a black man in twentieth-century America and of his political awakening in the Communist Party.

For all its cultural and historical interest, Harry Haywood’s story is also noteworthy for its considerable narrative drama. The son of parents born into slavery, Haywood tells how he grew up in Omaha, Nebraska, found his first job as a shoeshine boy in Minneapolis, then went on to work as a waiter on trains and in restaurants in Chicago. After fighting in France during the war, he studied how to make revolutions in Moscow during the 1920s, led the Communist Party’s move into the Deep South in 1931, helped to organize the campaign to free the Scottsboro Boys, worked with the Sharecroppers’ Union, supported protests in Chicago against Mussolini’s invasion of Ethiopia, fought with the International Brigades in Spain, served in the Merchant Marines during World War II, and continued to fight for the right of self-determination for the Afro-American nation in the United States until his death in 1985.

This new edition of his classic autobiography, Black Bolshevik, introduces American readers to the little-known story of a brilliant thinker, writer, and activist whose life encapsulates the struggle for freedom against all odds of the New Negro generation that came of age during and after World War I.

Published by: University of Minnesota Press


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pp. 1-7


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p. vii-vii

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pp. ix-xxiv

These stories from the autobiography of Harry Haywood can give you confidence that you can help make a better world. His life and his battles for African American freedom and for justice for the poor and disempowered throughout the world need to be better known. This beautifully written book is a remarkable document of his times. That said, I chose to edit to this condensed version ...


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pp. xxv-xxvi

A Black Communist in the Freedom Struggle

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p. 1-1

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pp. 3-5

On July 28, 1919, I literally stepped into a battle that was to last the rest of my life. Exactly three months after mustering out of the army, I found myself in the midst of one of the bloodiest race riots in U.S. history. It was certainly a most dramatic return to the realities of American democracy. It came to me then that I had been fighting the wrong war. The Germans ...

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1. A Child of Slaves

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pp. 7-32

I was born in South Omaha, Nebraska, on February 4, 1898—the youngest of the three children of Harriet and Haywood Hall. Otto, my older brother, was born in May 1891, and Eppa, my sister, in December 1896. The 1890s had been a decade of far-reaching structural change in the economic and political life of the United States. These were fateful years in which the pattern of ...

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2. A Black Regiment in World War I

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pp. 33-47

Despite my bitter encounter with racism in school, I liked Minneapolis. I was impressed by the beauty of this city, with its many lakes and surrounding pine forests. The racial climate in 1913 was not as bad as my early experience in school would indicate, either. Blacks seemed to get along well, especially with the Scandinavian nationalities, who constituted the most numerous ethnic ...

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3. On to France

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pp. 48-70

We sailed for France in early April 1918, on the old USS Washington, a passenger liner converted into a troop ship. I have crossed the Atlantic many times since, but I can truthfully say that I have never experienced rougher seas. Our three ships sailed out of Newport News without escort. Of course, we were worried; there were rumors of German submarines. Our anxiety was relieved when in ...

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4. Searching for Answers

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pp. 71-102

Back home in Chicago, I was soon working again as a waiter on the Michigan Central Railroad. As I have already mentioned, the first day of the bloody Chicago Race Riot ( July 28, 1919) came while I was working on the Wolverine run up through Michigan. When I arrived home from work that afternoon, the whole family greeted me emotionally. We were all there except for ...

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5. An Organization of Revolutionaries

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pp. 103-120

Otto was pleased when I first told him of my desire to join the party in the summer of 1922. He said that he had known I had been ready to join for some time, but he suggested I should wait a while before joining. When I asked why, he told me about an unpleasant situation that had arisen in the party’s Southside branch. Most of the few Black ...

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6. A Student in Moscow

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pp. 121-137

Otto’s delegation of Black students to the Soviet Union caused quite a stir in the States. The FBI kept an eye on their activities, and in the late summer of 1925, their departure was sensationalized in the New York Times.1 The article attributed a statement to Lovett Fort-Whiteman to the effect that he had sent ten Blacks to the Soviet Union to study bolshevism and prepare for careers in ...

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7. Self-Determination: The Fight for a Correct Line

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pp. 138-159

Toward the end of 1927, N. Nasanov returned to the Soviet Union after a sojourn in the United States as the representative of the Young Communist International. I had known him briefly in the States before my departure for Russia. Nasanov was one of a group of YCI workers who had been sent on missions to several countries. He had considerable experience with respect to the national ...

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8. Return to the Home Front: White Chauvinism under Fire

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pp. 160-176

I arrived in New York in early November 1930. After four and a half years in the Soviet Union, everything seemed quite strange. While passing through customs, I lit up a cigarette. A cop snarled at me out of the corner of his mouth, “No smoking here, fella.” I was so startled by his rude tone that the cigarette dropped from my lips. Out in the street I caught a taxi ...

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9. Reunion in Moscow

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pp. 177-188

I returned to New York from the miners’ strike in September 1931. Shortly thereafter, I was co-opted to the Central Committee with the privilege of sitting in on meetings of the Politburo. B. D. Amis, the former head of the Negro Department, was sent to Ohio, and I was named to fill his position. In my new job, a large part of my time was devoted to the Scottsboro campaign, which was ...

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10. Sharecroppers with Guns: Organizing the Black Belt

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pp. 189-210

In the spring of 1933, Haywood Patterson of the Scottsboro Boys was declared guilty by a court in Decatur, Alabama. Following his conviction, a wave of indignation swept Black communities across the country. Mass protest rallies, demonstrations of all sorts, and parades culminated in the Free the Scottsboro Boys March on Washington on May 7–9, 1933. The right danger ...

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11. Chicago: Against War and Fascism

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pp. 211-227

Back in New York, I began to take stock of myself as a party leader. I had risen rapidly in the party hierarchy during the four years since my return from the Soviet Union. I was now a member of the Politburo and head of the National Negro Department. Despite the importance of my post, I was dissatisfied with my own personal development. True, I was regarded as a promising young ...

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12. The Spanish Civil War: A Call to Arms

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pp. 228-247

Why did I go to Spain? For me, as a Communist, Spain was the next logical step. Franco’s rebellion in mid-1936 sparked a civil war that became a focal point of the worldwide struggle to halt fascism and prevent World War II. The generals’ rebellion against the Spanish people’s front government was backed by Hitler and Mussolini, who poured in ...

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13. World War II and the Merchant Marines

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pp. 248-270

In October 1939, a few weeks after the fascist conquest of Poland, I found myself in the Veterans’ Hospital at Kingsbridge Road in the Bronx. I had suffered a serious heart attack. My condition was found to be service connected, the result of the endocarditis I had suffered while in the army during the First World War. This time the diagnosis was valvular heart disease. I was awarded ...

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pp. 271-283

By the late fifties, those of us who had defended the revolutionary position on Black liberation had been driven from the CP—either expelled or forced to resign. The party’s leaders insisted that Blacks were well on the way to being assimilated into the old reliable American “melting pot.” But the melting pot suddenly exploded in their faces. In the sixties, the Black revolt surged up from the ...

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pp. 285-286

Many friends and comrades, directly or indirectly, helped me with the writing of this book. Unfortunately, they are too numerous to all be named here. A number of young people assisted with the editorial, research, and typing tasks and moved the project along through political discussions. Special thanks to Ernie Allen, who gave yeoman help with the early chapters. Others whose ...


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pp. 287-299


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pp. 301-325

E-ISBN-13: 9780816680313
E-ISBN-10: 0816680310
Print-ISBN-13: 9780816679065

Page Count: 336
Publication Year: 2012