“Big Tom the Red” is a husky, strapping
Negro. He was born
Thomas Williams in a small town in Georgia.
His neighbors and other people in the Negro ghetto known
as Harlem, in New York City, gave him the name “Big Tom the
Red.” The name
was fitting because of his size and his fanatical efforts to
sell them Communism.
When they spoke of him it was not with any
personal hate, because they all like Big Tom but they didn’t
like what he had to sell. His
politics were all wrong in their opinion and they tried to tell
him in many ways, but he was a stubborn guy.
Bluntly they told him that Communism is not the answer to
the Negroes’ problem and that he was on the wrong track, but
there was no changing him unless he learned by his own
experience that he was wrong.
People liked Big Tom because he is a
likeable guy, and they respected his intelligence, his ability,
and determination to do something for his race, though they knew
that he was misguided. They often wondered how he got tied up with the Commies, when
he could have gone a long way without them.
They all agreed that the race problem must be solved but
not the way the Communists proposed.
They tried to get Big Tom to see it their way, but their
efforts were in vain.
Day in and day out, far into the night,
even on Sundays and holidays, Big Tom was on the job plugging
the Commie line and literature.
He must have thought he was a sort of voice in the
wilderness, because rain or shine, in summer’s heat and
winter’s cold, he was very active distributing handbills,
selling literature, ringing doorbells, speaking at meetings,
recruiting members, visiting unions, clubs, fraternal
organizations, churches, and leading riots.
The cause of Communism was his first love.
Family and other personal considerations were secondary.
He would leave his family for long periods at a time to
do work for the Party. In
the true sense of the words, Big Tom was a “professional
would go anywhere the Party sent him.
He would do anything the Party wanted done.
He hated America, swore allegiance to the Red Flag emblazoned
with the hammer and sickle, adopted Soviet Russia as his
fatherland, accepted Stalin as his leader, and dedicated his
life to the destruction of America and the Sovietizing of the
world. All this he
did, believing that in this way his people would be freed from
the evil of racism.
How did Big Tom get this way? What soured him on America?
What turned him into a traitor?
What made him commit treasonable acts, in the interests
of an alien government, against his own country and urge others
of his race to do the same?
Briefly the answer is racism and Communism.
He was born and reared in Jim Crow
surroundings which in time he grew to hate.
The narrowly circumscribed life based upon race hate and
the belief that he had no rights which a white man was bound to
respect rankled and embittered him.
He wanted to get out of it.
His friends who had gone North wrote glowing letters
about the freedom and privileges to be found there and advised
him to get out of the South as soon as he could get together
enough money. Some
of them told that they were never going to return even to visit
relatives. All this
impressed Big Tom and gave him something to look forward to.
He wanted to go to college, but his parents
couldn’t afford it, so he had to go to work after finishing
high school to add to the family income.
Getting even a high school education was a big thing,
since so many others were lucky if they finished grade school.
After graduation he married a fine and
attractive girl and would have settled down, but he could not
harden himself to the Jim Crow surroundings as had so many
others of his race. The vivid recollections of a race riot in which white
hoodlums indiscriminately attacked Negroes, burned their homes,
wrecked their businesses, and the Roman Holiday atmosphere that
prevailed when one of his neighbors was dragged from his home
and lynched, left a deep impression on him so that no amount of
persuasion could stop him from moving his family North to
A surprisingly new world was to open to Big
Tom. He settled in
a tenement in Harlem. It
was one of the many tenements in this area that had seen their
best days long before the white people move out and the Negroes
moved in. In this
overcrowded area with its horrible slums, vermin-infested
buildings, and unsanitary conditions, he mingled with other
Negroes who, like himself, had fled the South in search of a
better life and opportunities for advancement.
He encountered much difficulty before he
got a menial job doing heavy and dirty work in a metal shop on
Long Island. This
was the only kind of job given to a Negro. He had to take it and sweated and strained with the other
Negroes. His wife,
Martha, also got a job as a domestic to help pay the exorbitant
rent exacted by a greedy and heartless landlord.
There was no other place to live, not for a Negro, so the
landlords jacked up the rent two and three times what it was
when white people lived there.
In fact, the white landlords opened the area to Negroes
knowing that the whites, not wanting to live in the same
community with Negroes, would move out and then they could get
much higher rental from the Negroes.
Big Tom looked upon this as robbery without a gun, but
there was nothing he could do about it, so he fell into line by
cluttering up his tenement flat with roomers to help pay the
rent. Four years
before his wife had given birth to a son and he wanted a private
room for him, something that he didn’t have when he was a boy,
but this was a luxury he could not afford, so they were
compelled to crowd three in one room.
Harlem is a Negro
ghetto on the island of Manhattan, in New York City.
Except for the fact that it is the hub of Negro life, it
does not differ from the ghettos found in other big cities or
from the area “down by the railroad tracks” in smaller
cities and towns. Here
can be found numerous issues that can be exploited to stir up
the populace. And
where there are issues, you find the Communists.
They have a job to do, and they need the Negro to help
them do it.
Tom had heard of the Reds through the part they played in the
Scottsboro Case, but he had not been impressed with their
propaganda. He had
contributed some money to the cause and that is about as far as
he had gone. They
had left circulars under his door asking him to attend
this-or-that meeting for this-or-that cause which he read and
ignored. His only
interest was taking care of his family, making ends meet,
attending church regularly, and completing a course in a trade
school which he attended at night in an effort to get ahead.
If he had been left alone he might have gone a long way.
But you don’t stay in Harlem or any other Negro
community long before the Commie contact you.
They are busybodies peddling their wares wherever they
think people will buy.
the job where Big Tom worked, there was a white fellow who took
a sudden interest in him, because Big Tom stood out among his
fellows. He was a sort of leader among the other Negroes.
They looked up to him.
This white fellow went tout of his way to be friendly and
took up the cudgels, so to speak, for Big Tom when other white
employees made slurring and insulting remarks.
When Big Tom finished trade school and sought a promotion
to machinist helper, only to be turned down by management, this
white fellow was quick to point out the injustice and suggested
doing something about it. Posing
as a friend and different from the other white men in the plant,
he was able in time to break through Big Tom distrust, and he
pressed his advantage by inviting him to a meeting of a Negro
and white group, ostensibly working for equal rights for the
program of this group as outlined to Big Tom by his white
“friend” was very attractive, but he had learned never to
trust a white man. Time
and time again he promised to attend a meeting but always found
an excuse not to appear. Far
from being discouraged, the white fellow kept after him until he
finally got him to a meeting of the group.
the meeting he was introduced to the “comrades.”
They greeted him warmly and made him feel at home.
The principal speaker, for the benefit of the newcomers,
painted a vivid picture of the unjust treatment of Negroes
locally and nationally, and urged them to join in support of the
campaign to eliminate these conditions.
Other speakers talked about lower rents, better housing
conditions, better jobs, and other legitimate things which gave
clarity to the thoughts that were troubling Big Tom, and he felt
that here was a group that he should support.
That night he joined the League of Struggle for Negro
by the bait of this Commie front, he was on the road. He was given literature to read.
What he did not understand, his white “friend”
patiently explained. At
subsequent meetings the speakers very cleverly and skillfully
tied up the just grievances of the Negro with the “system.”
The capitalist system was pointed up as the evil thing
responsible for the Negro’s plight.
They hammered away at this until Big Tom began to hate
the “system.” The
struggle for Negro rights became a struggle for “national
liberation” from the oppressive capitalist system.
followed meeting. Activity
followed activity. In
his enthusiasm for the cause, he neglected his family.
The opiate of Communism had him under its spell.
His wife complained, so he pressured her into joining to
help the cause. Soon
home and church became the least important things in Big Tom’s
life. Home became
only a place in which Big Tom slept after laboring in the
Communist vineyard. Church
became a place only to visit when you wanted the members to
support some Red campaign; otherwise it was “a tool of the
League of Struggle for Negro Rights was, like all other Commie
fronts, a school for Communism.
The masses are attracted and then schooled in Communism.
Those who show the qualities of leadership are given
special attention, as in the case of Big Tom.
He didn’t know anything about Communism, but they soon
explained to him what it was all about and convinced him that
while he was a good leader he could become a better leader
through membership and training in the Party.
They pointed out to him that James W. Ford, William
Patterson, Harry Haywood, Otto Huiswood, and other leaders of
the organization were members of the Party and that they were
leaders because they were trained by the Party.
Consequently he joined the Communist Party thinking that
in this way he could advance himself and his race.
after he joined the Party came study groups and secret schools
where he wolfed down the Commie line, spurred by the belief that
he could work efficiently for the liberation of his race and
also by the promise of greatness through leadership.
The Party leaders took him out of the shop and put him on
the payroll so that he could devote full time to Party work.
His enthusiasm, courage, loyalty, and ability as a
speaker and organizer earned him a scholarship in the Lenin
Institute, in Moscow, which all expenses paid by the Russian
surprising new world had opened to him.
His new-found comrades had opened up little-dreamed-of
opportunities and made him feel, for once in his life, that he
was really important. In
the Lenin Institute, they pumped him full of the theory,
strategy, and tactics of race and class warfare, rebellion, and
taught him to hate and to teach the masses to hate America and
all other capitalist governments and to mold that hate into
talents and energies to be put in the service of the revolution.
Moreover he met Dimitri Manuilsky, Lazar Kaganovich, O.
Piatntzky, Alexander Lossovsky, and other leaders of the Soviet
Government, whose word is law to every Communist all over the
world, and listened to their assurance of full backing of the
program in America.
his return to the States he was, like a number of other Negroes
who graduated from the Lenin Institute, full of enthusiasm and
zeal to bring about the revolution.
He was assigned by the Party leadership to work among his
race, and he tackled the job with vigor. This enthusiasm did not
last, because he soon found out that getting Negroes to accept
Moscow’s program was a tough job.
The results were disappointing.
The vast majority refused to buy.
Sure Jim Crow, discrimination, and the other evils of
racism created grave discontent; sure the Black Belt, where
racism is rampant and exploitation shameful, is a fertile ground
for the seed of rebellion, but, despite this, the Negroes
couldn’t be sold.
were times when Big Tom had his doubts about the Party
leadership and the program that he was ordered to carry out.
After all, he was no bureaucrat, because he worked daily
among the members of his race.
He knew their feelings, their moods, and their
knew that they respect the opinion of their leaders on
all-important race matters and destroying their leadership is
easier said than done. He
knew that Negroes are loyal to America even in the face of
injustice and that they want and seek integration and equality
in American society, not separation into a Negro state arising
from the fires of rebellion, bloodshed, and revolution.
Though he knew all these facts, he dared not express them
lest his remarks be construed as opposition to Stalin’s
program, and nobody stays in the Party who even thinks that
Stalin “The Leader” is wrong.
these doubts persisted and forced Big Tom to take stock of the
more than twenty years of his activity.
He had worked in numerous Commie front groups.
He had seen and helped them grow only to see them wither
on the vine. He had
founded and helped build the National Negro Congress.
It seemed for a few years that this set-up would turn the
trick for the Party because of the wide support and backing it
enjoyed among Negroes and whites.
But when A. Phillip Randolph, the President, walked out
and exposed the Party’s control and domination of this
organization; it eventually went the way of all the others.
New front groups like the Negro Labor Council were formed
to attract Negroes to the Party.
He would have to plug this one until it was exposed and
then there would be another and another to sell.
To Big Tom, it had become a vicious circle of deception.
more he thought about it the more the picture began to clarify.
The National Association for the Advancement of Colored
People, the Urban League, the Interracial Councils, which he
condemned as tools of Wall Street, were getting things done.
The leaders of these groups he called “filth from the
gutter” and “raisleaders.”
The Negro press he called “gutter journalism.”
All because he was told to do so by the Party bosses.
Why, he asked himself, when these groups were getting
results in healthier race relations? Then it dawned on him that he was the sucker, not the Negroes
who refused to buy. He
was the one that had been used to mislead his people by telling
them that the solution of their problems lies in Communism.
he recalled that he was taught that he was first a Communist and
second a Negro and that the Party decides what is best for the
Negro, because the “tail does not wag the dog, the dog wags
the tail.” In
this he saw for the first time the cynical, evil, and ruthless
face of Communism behind the mask of warm and smiling
“friendship” toward the Negro.
Then and there he resolved to get out of the Party and
Tom talked it over with his wife.
She told him that had been her opinion for a long time
but she wanted him to find out for himself.
Then she reminded him how they persecuted, slandered, and
hounded George Hewitt, Negro Communist, to his grave.
There were others with whom Big Tom worked that he and
other called “traitors,” and “enemies of labor.”
He could expect no better treatment, but his mind was
made up so that come “hell or high water” he was through
with the Reds.
that Big Tom has broken with the Party, he had fears where he
used to have hopes. He
knows that the Jim Crow laws, denial of fair employment and
upgrading, discrimination in housing and education, the use of
mayhem and lynching to enforce Southern customs and traditions,
denial of the right to vote, are excellent issues that the Reds
can use to subvert the Negro population.
He continues to be surprised that Negroes with few
exceptions have rejected the attractive appeals of the Reds,
even though racism has done more than any other thing to drive
them into the camp of Communism.
Tom knows that one of the most dangerous illusions white
Americans can develop is the belief
that since the Negro has rejected Communism business can
go on as usual. The temporary defeat of the Reds has not discouraged them.
But under the lash of Moscow, they are more determined
than ever, and it should be borne in mind that Stalin will not
accept excuses for failure in any assignment.
Big Tom quit, he remembers that there are others like him who
are still in the Party and are fanatically loyal to Stalin.
Take for example Benjamin Davis, Jr. [1903-1964], who shouted at a
meeting in Harlem “I would rather be a lamppost in Moscow than
to be president of the United States,” before he was sent to
jail for conspiring to overthrow the U. S. Government.
And take for example William Patterson, Moscow-trained
leader of the Civil Rights Congress, who presented the “We
Charge Genocide” petition to the United Nations in Paris, with
much fanfare and publicity.
He made his presentation with full approval, sanction,
and support of the Moscow high command.
The carefully documented material showing racial violence
was the result of studied preparation.
Patterson did not, nor did the other Red leaders, expect
the petition to be accepted, but they recognized the dramatic
and wide propaganda value of the material in the petition.
was a group of Americans, headed by a Negro, accusing their own
country of deliberate intent to destroy, in whole or in part,
its Negro population. Obviously
this propaganda was not so much aimed at impressing the Negro in
the U. S. A. as it was to win the darker races to Soviet
leadership by using the unjust treatment of the Negro as proof
that America hates the darker races.
Big Tom remembers Red tactics.
In this way they sow seeds of suspicion, distrust, and
hate of America and the West, and at the same time pose the
Communists as the friends and champions of the darker races.
shudders every time racists in America add more fuel to the
fire. For instance,
the bombings in Florida in which Mr. Harry T. Moore, leader of
the N.A.A.C.P., and his wife were killed; the rioting in Cicero,
Illinois; the statement of James Byrnes, Governor of South
Carolina, a former U. S. Secretary of State, to the effect that
he would abolish the school system in his State, should the U.
S. Supreme Court outlaw segregated schools, and the statement of
Grand Dragon Hendricks that “rivers of blood will flow” if
Negroes don’t keep in their place.
These horrible incidents are used by the Reds to create
much of the distrust, suspicion, and hate expressed against
America by the darker races.
Tom hopes America will face this problem squarely. It is vital to the present and future security and well-being
of our country.
Tom wishes everybody could see it as he does: racism in America,
Malanism in South Africa, and the outmoded relations with
colonial peoples maintained by shortsighted Western leaders, who
refuse to recognize the necessity, the moral and Christian duty
of change, are giving the Communists the tools to dig the grave
not only of the West but of our whole Christian civilization.
* * * *
was a Communist Party leader for ten years, during which
time he served on the National Committee.
He later worked with the F.B.I., investigating Communism. He is now a Consultant for the Department of Justice,
Source: The Sign,
* * *
Bill Moyers and James Cone (Interview) /
A Conversation with James Cone
Coltrane, "Alabama" /
Kalamu ya Salaam, "Alabama"
A Love Supreme
A Blues for the Birmingham Four
/ Eulogy for the Young Victims
/ Six Dead After Church
My Story, My Song (Featuring blues guitarist Walter Wolfman Washington)
* * * *
By Lorraine Hansberry
I can hear Rosalee
See the eyes of Willie McGee
My mother told me about
My mother told me about
The dark nights
And dirt roads
And torch lights
And lynch robes
faces of men
Faces of men
Dead in the night
* * *
Writer Lorraine Hansberry's
sober eulogy of the death of Willie McGee weighed heavy on the
hearts and minds of the American Left. On May 8, 1951, a crowd of
five hundred lingered outside the courthouse of Laurel, Mississippi,
to witness the execution of yet another black man convicted for
allegedly raping a white woman. His 1945 lightning trial resulted in
a guilty conviction delivered in less than two and a half minutes by
an all-white, male jury, setting off a heated five-year legal
struggle that drew national headlines. Despite an aggressive appeals
defense team who attempted every legal maneuver in the book, the US
Supreme Court ultimately chose not to intervene. With the legal
lynching of the Martinsville Seven in February, Ethel and Julius
Rosenberg's conviction in March, followed by the execution of McGee
in May, 1951 was a bad year for Left-leaning lawyers (Parrish 1979;
Rise 1995). Most discouraging, national news sources like the New
York Times and Life magazine red-baited the "Save Willie
McGee" campaign and—as Life reported—its "imported" lawyers (Popham
1951a; Life 1951). Few felt McGee's passing with as heavy a heart as
his chief counsel, thirty-one-year-old Bella Abzug.
Before Abzug became a representative in
Congress and a leader in the peace and women's movements, she confronted the
Southern political and legal system at the height of the early Cold War.
Retained in 1948 by the Civil Rights Congress (CRC)—a New York-headquartered
Popular Front legal defense organization—the novice labor lawyer honed her civil
rights . . .
* * *
* * *
Debt: The First 5,000 Years
By David Graeber
Before there was money, there was debt. Every economics textbook says the same thing: Money was invented to replace onerous and complicated barter systems—to relieve ancient people from having to haul their goods to market. The problem with this version of history? There’s not a shred of evidence to support it. Here anthropologist David Graeber presents a stunning reversal of conventional wisdom. He shows that for more than 5,000 years, since the beginnings of the first agrarian empires, humans have used elaborate credit systems to buy and sell goods—that is, long before the invention of coins or cash. It is in this era, Graeber argues, that we also first encounter a society divided into debtors and creditors. Graeber shows that arguments about debt and debt forgiveness have been at the center of political debates from Italy to China, as well as sparking innumerable insurrections.
He also brilliantly demonstrates that the
language of the ancient works of law and religion (words like
“guilt,” “sin,” and “redemption”) derive in large part from
ancient debates about debt, and shape even our most basic ideas
of right and wrong.
We are still fighting these battles today without
knowing it. Debt: The First 5,000 Years is a fascinating chronicle of this little known history—as well as how it has defined human history, and what it means for the credit crisis of the present day and the future of our economy.
Economist Glenn Loury /Criminalizing a Race
* * * * *
The New Jim Crow
Mass Incarceration in the Age of
By Michele Alexander
Contrary to the
rosy picture of race embodied in Barack
Obama's political success and Oprah
Winfrey's financial success, legal
scholar Alexander argues vigorously and
persuasively that [w]e have not ended
racial caste in America; we have merely
redesigned it. Jim Crow and legal racial
segregation has been replaced by mass
incarceration as a system of social
control (More African Americans are
under correctional control today... than
were enslaved in 1850). Alexander
reviews American racial history from the
colonies to the Clinton administration,
delineating its transformation into the
war on drugs. She offers an acute
analysis of the effect of this mass
incarceration upon former inmates who
will be discriminated against, legally,
for the rest of their lives, denied
employment, housing, education, and
Most provocatively, she reveals how both the move toward colorblindness and affirmative action
may blur our vision of injustice: most
Americans know and don't know the truth
about mass incarceration—but her
carefully researched, deeply engaging,
and thoroughly readable book should
* * *
Walking with the Wind: A Memoir of the Movement
Lewis and Michael D’Orso
Alabama sharecropper's son, went to Nashville to
attend a Baptist college where, at the end of the
1950s, his life and the new civil rights movement
became inexorably entwined. First came the lunch
counter sit-ins; then the Freedom Rides; the Student
Nonviolent Coordinating Committee (SNCC) and Lewis's
election to its chairmanship; the voter registration
drives; the 1963 march on Washington; the Birmingham
church bombings; the murders during the Freedom
Summer; the Mississippi Freedom Democratic Party;
Bloody Sunday in Selma in 1964; and the march on
Montgomery. Lewis was an active, leading member
during all of it. Much of his account, written with
freelancer D'Orso, covers the same territory as
The Children. Halberstam himself appears
here briefly as a young reporter but Lewis imbues it
with his own observations as a participant.
He is at times so self-effacing in this memoir that he
underplays his role in the events he helped create. But he has a
sharp eye, and his account of Selma and the march that followed
is vivid and personal. He describes the rivalries within the
movement as well as the enemies outside.
After being forced out of
SNCC because of internal politics, Lewis served in President
Carter's domestic peace corps, dabbled in local Georgia
politics, then in 1986 defeated his old friend Julian Bond in a
race for Congress, where he still serves. Lewis notes that
people often take his quietness for meekness. His book, a
uniquely well-told testimony by an eyewitness, makes clear that
such an impression is entirely inaccurate.—Publishers
* * * * *
The Black Count
Glory, Revolution, Betrayal, and the Real Count of Monte Cristo
By Tom Reiss
Here is the remarkable true story of the real Count of Monte
Cristo—a stunning feat of historical sleuthing that brings to
life the forgotten hero who inspired such classics as The
Count of Monte Cristo and The Three Musketeers. The
real-life protagonist of The Black Count, General Alex
Dumas, is a man almost unknown today yet with a story that is
strikingly familiar, because his son, the novelist Alexandre
Dumas, used it to create some of the best loved heroes of
literature. Yet, hidden behind these swashbuckling adventures
was an even more incredible secret: the real hero was the son of
a black slave—who rose higher in the white world than any man of
his race would before our own time. Born in Saint-Domingue (now
Haiti), Alex Dumas was briefly sold into bondage but made his
way to Paris where he was schooled as a sword-fighting member of
the French aristocracy.
Enlisting as a private, he rose to command armies at
the height of the Revolution, in an audacious
campaign across Europe and the Middle East—until he
met an implacable enemy he could not defeat.
* * * * *
The Courage to Hope
How I Stood Up to the Politics of Fear
Sherrod sets the
record straight on her forced resignation from the Department of
Agriculture in 2010. The author. . .was director for the USDA's
Rural Development in Georgia when conservative political blogger
Andrew Breitbart attacked her for allegedly reverse racist comments
she made at an NAACP event. The threat of exposure on national TV
was enough to send the USDA running for cover, and she was
dismissed. Sherrod decided she had to fight back. She and her
husband have been directly involved in the struggles for political
and economic justice in Georgia and elsewhere since the 1960s, and
they were part of Martin Luther King's movement for civil rights.
She writes about growing up in segregated Georgia and the
circumstances surrounding her father’s murder and the arson of her
family home—at that time, “fear was the daily diet that kept the
status quo alive.” In the ’70s, Sherrod and her husband worked with
other farmers in Georgia on experimental projects.
Denied drought assistance funds by the USDA, they faced foreclosure and joined a
class-action suit to redress the discrimination. Eventually, they
won the settlement, a decision strongly opposed by conservatives.
Sherrod writes sharply about the continuing legacy of racism and how
economic policy, hidebound bureaucracy and plain malice affect poor
people everywhere, and why pretending that we are in a post-racial
world doesn’t help anyone. An inspiring memoir about the real power
of courage and hope.
* * * * *
The White Masters of the
The World and Africa, 1965
By W. E. B. Du Bois
W. E. B. Du Bois’
Arraignment and Indictment of White Civilization
* * *
Ancient African Nations
* * * * *
If you like this page consider making a donation
* * * * *
Negro Digest /
Browse all issues
* * * * *
The Death of Emmett Till by Bob Dylan
The Lonesome Death of Hattie Carroll
Only a Pawn in Their Game
Rev. Jesse Lee Peterson Thanks America for
George Jackson /
* * *
The Journal of Negro History issues at Project Gutenberg
Haitian Declaration of Independence 1804
January 1, 1804 -- The Founding of
* * * * *
* * *
update 24 September 2012