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91 While a black migrant laborer from Detroit became the de facto poster child for Soviet antiracism, in the early 1930s nine black male teenagers from Tennessee became the faces of U.S. racial apartheid. They were, of course, not the only African American males presented as victims of the U.S. racial regime (as chapter 2 demonstrates), but they were certainly the most visible.1 From May 1931 through the fall of 1932, these young men constituted the subject of pamphlets, banners , news articles, poems, protest resolutions, rallies, cartoons, and photographs. On March 25, 1931, police had hauled the nine black teenagers off a freight train in Paint Rock, Alabama. They initially charged them with assaulting a group of white male hitchers until they persuaded two white prostitutes, whom they had also pulled off the train, to accuse the nine unsuspecting black youth of rape. The trials, for which the alleged gang of rapists were refused impartial legal counsel, began on April 6, 1931, in Scottsboro, Alabama, with a lynch mob surrounding the courthouse. Although evidence in the case was extremely weak, by April 9 an all-white jury had condemned eight of the defendants to death and sentenced the youngest (who was only thirteen) to life imprisonment. Their execution was scheduled for July 10, 1931. A campaign to liberate the Scottsboro prisoners was organized in the USSR by the Soviet branch of mopr, or the International Organization for Assistance to Revolutionary Fighters, known more popularly abroad as International Red Aid (ira). As a subsidiary organization of The Scottsboro Campaign Personalizing American Racism and Speaking Antiracism 3 92 the scottsboro campaign the Communist International, mopr was best suited to oversee the protest; its main organizational objectives were systematically exposing the atrocities (acts they termed “white terror”) committed against revolutionaries in capitalist countries and fostering support among the Soviet toiling masses for their imprisoned brethren.2 mopr leaders instructed branches of the organization in the United States, as well as throughout Latin America and Europe, to lead similar protests. As a result of these campaigns and the efforts of the International Labor Defense (ild), which was mopr’s American affiliate, the Scottsboro prisoners were not executed in July. After the ild successfully appealed other execution dates, the U.S. Supreme Court in November 1932 ordered a new trial for the young black men on the grounds that the rights guaranteed them under the Fourteenth Amendment had been violated.3 As James Miller, Susan D. Pennybacker, and Eve Rosenhaft argue in their important 2001 article in the American Historical Review, the Scottsboro campaigns in England, Germany, the Soviet Union, and the United States fostered a global racial dialogue in the 1930s.4 This chapter adds nuance to their conclusion by situating the Scottsboro protest within the broader Soviet indictment of U.S. racism. It demonstrates that mopr authorities conceived of it as the duty of the Soviet people, as citizens of the first country to be building a socialist society, to lead this antiracist dialogue and raise the most massive, far-reaching Scottsboro campaign. More precisely, as the “shock brigade of the international proletariat,” they were supposed to lead the struggle to liberate the nine African American prisoners and to inspire toilers around the world to follow their example.5 mopr’s use of the liberation movement to glorify the Soviet state as enlightened rendered it distinct—in both content and form—from the Scottsboro campaigns in the United States and Europe.6 As will be elaborated below, expressing solidarity with the Scottsboro defendants became an alternate means of expressing support for the project of building socialism. The Scottsboro protest made abundantly clear, in other words, that “speaking antiracism” was another form of “speaking Bolshevik.” Accordingly, segments of society that had the scottsboro campaign 93 been perceived as suspect in their loyalty to the Soviet state were portrayed rallying to the Scottsboro prisoners’ defense with particular enthusiasm. This included members of the Soviet intellectual and cultural community who, in the spring of 1931, were just emerging from the most militant phase of the Cultural Revolution (1928–31). Their prominent role in a campaign to denounce the hypocrisy of freedom in “bourgeois” America served as evidence that “bourgeois” elements had been eradicated from the intellectual spheres of Soviet society. Similarly, workers and collective farmers who inhabited border regions of the USSR, agricultural areas subjected to forced collectivization, and/or republics that had a history of ethnic con- flict or recent anti...

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Additional Information

ISBN
9780803240841
Related ISBN
9780803215528
MARC Record
OCLC
796214780
Pages
360
Launched on MUSE
2012-06-26
Language
English
Open Access
No
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