Cold War Consequences
Cold War Consequences
The Council on African Affairs in Decline, 1950–1955
Abstract and Keywords
The final chapter considers consequences of the Cold War climate while tracing the decline of the Council on Affairs during the early 1950s. By this time, the group has lost members, can no longer host events in public venues like Madison Square Garden, and must defend itself against the government's subversive classification. Even through this taxing period, the Council produced its newsletter and praised the nonalignment conference in Bandung, Indonesia. Yet court subpoenas and financial hardship eventually closed the doors of the Council's offices permanently. This chapter points out that the Council's work filled an important gap in the history of the Pan-African Congress movement and maintains that the group's advocacy set a vital precedent for subsequent organizations like TransAfrica. This chapter also maintains that Freedom newspaper was a consequence of the Cold War. As the mainstream press adopted an anticommunist outlook, long-distance political runners from SNYC and the Council formed Freedom to advance a progressive viewpoint during some of the most suppressive years of the early Cold War. The short-lived newspaper offered an alternative vision of freedom that countered Cold War loyalty and conformity with calls for freedom from Jim Crow and freedom for colonized people.
During World War II, Roosevelt's historic speech had not outlined any prerequisites to enjoy the Four Freedoms he described. The Freedom Train exhibit illustrated the increasing contestation of the definition of freedom in the postwar years. By 1950, with the Cold War becoming more entrenched, the idea of freedom was becoming linked with the notion of national loyalty. In the late 1940s, President Truman instituted a loyalty program for federal employees, and the Taft-Hartley Act, passed by Congress in 1947, required union leaders to swear they owed no allegiance to the Communist Party. In 1950, Senator Joseph McCarthy dramatically called into question the loyalty of State Department employees when he publicly claimed to possess a list of spies working in that strategic government agency. That same year, the McCarran Internal Security Bill mandated that groups considered subversive must register with the government and that their members could have passports withdrawn.
As essayist Henry Steele Commager insightfully pointed out at that time, a “new loyalty” was being “etched more sharply in public policy.”1 Rather than protecting one's access to basic freedoms, this new loyalty was constricting. It directed a citizen to prove himself as loyal in order to enjoy the benefits of free society. Conformity, above all, was the basis of the new loyalty and it, in Commager's words, denied “freedom of thought and conscience.”2 Citizens were expected to embrace American society as it was without interrogating its shortcomings.
Groups or individuals who did challenge aspects of American society, like the Southern Negro Youth Congress, sometimes became Cold War (p.147) casualties. The influential national security paper from 1950 known as NSC-68, which positioned the United States and the Soviet Union as diametrical foes and helped bring about increased military spending, defined a free society as having several clear attributes. The paper indicated that a free society welcomed diversity and derived strength from “its hospitality even to antipathetic ideas.”3 Ironically, the U.S. government was restricting oppositional views even while arguing that the “free trade in ideas” was fundamental to a free society.4 A consequence of the early Cold War was, thus, an atmosphere that circumscribed freedom of speech and freedom of political association. Critiquing U.S. policy, as the Council on African Affairs did, was not embraced in this political climate. As a result, the council was pushed into a defensive position in the early 1950s in which the organization was forced to contend for its right to function.
Yet, another consequence of the Cold War was resourcefulness in responding to the political environment. The formation of Freedom newspaper illustrated a tenacious spirit among activists on the progressive left. Even though the paper lasted but a few years, it showed how organizers and writers persisted in creating outlets from which to advocate for both southern civil rights and colonial freedom for Africa. Freedom was part of a near-continuous vision that linked the values and goals of the Southern Negro Youth Congress and Council on African Affairs with an emerging generation of activists who established Freedomways journal just a few years after Freedom and the council folded in 1955.
A lot of Cold War rhetoric was tinged with an increasingly militaristic tone in 1950. Early that year, in a speech that was later proven to be largely fabricated, Senator McCarthy alleged that the Communist Party had penetrated the Department of State. McCarthy's hawkish anticommunist tone was unambiguous and foreshadowed future armed conflict. Declaring that the “rumblings of an invigorated god of war” were audible, McCarthy evaluated the current political winds by stressing that “this is not a period of peace” but rather time for “the show-down” between “communistic atheism and Christianity.”5 That summer, the formation of Cold War alliances instigated U.S. intervention in a “hot” war on the divided Korean peninsula. The council, and other groups, which had been calling for peace, had to now face the tangible evidence that their pleas had gone unheard.
Undaunted, the Council on African Affairs quickly denounced the (p.148) Korean conflict and circulated an antiwar petition that was signed by 150 African Americans.6 The September issue of New Africa also published statements against the war from leaders and activists around Africa. The petition was penned by council vicechairman W.E.B. Du Bois who was actively involved in the world peace movement. In the summer of 1950, he traveled to Prague for a meeting of the Partisans of Peace, and he worked with the Peace Information Center to disseminate news on the global peace movement in the United States.7 In the council petition, titled “A Protest and Plea,” Du Bois forthrightly stated that the organization stood for peace and demanded that U.S. military intervention in the Korean civil war should be immediately halted in favor of arbitration, which should be undertaken “with the clear understanding that if Koreans prefer socialism or communism they must be free to choose.” He then cogently linked the Korean crisis to racial injustice in the United States by pointing out that this country was hardly qualified to intervene on behalf of the rights of “darker peoples” given its record of segregation, disfranchisement, and lynching at home as well as its continued financial support of South African apartheid. Finally, commenting on the domestic political climate, Du Bois noted the federal government had but one response to policy critiques based on sound evidence: they must be evidence of a Communist conspiracy. Nevertheless, he firmly maintained that “it is not treason to work for Peace.”8
Still, the repressive political atmosphere failed to abate. In the summer of 1950, the Council on African Affairs planned to hold a rally in support of restoring Paul Robeson's right to travel abroad after his passport was revoked by federal authorities. The contract for the event, scheduled to be held at Madison Square Garden, was suddenly canceled on the grounds that a pending bill in Congress would make it illegal for groups on the attorney general's list of subversive organizations to rent the space. At a press conference, council chairman Robeson pointed out that such legislation was being used to “tear up the Bill of Rights and, specifically, the right of free assembly and free speech.”9
In response, the council called for a protest in front of Madison Square Garden, and over one hundred black and white citizens picketed the site. Noting the public demonstration, the management of the venue granted Alphaeus Hunton an interview but still refused to allow the council to utilize the Garden. Returning to the march, Hunton declared that if (p.149) constitutional rights can be repressed on the basis of legislation that has not even been passed, “it is not hard to imagine the destruction of our liberties which must follow if these proposals actually become the law of the land.”10 Just as freedom of assembly was curtailed for the Southern Negro Youth Congress in its last year, the Council on African Affairs now suffered from similarly restraining measures. Only four years previously, the council had held one of its biggest mass rallies in Madison Square Garden in support of South African famine relief. However, by 1950, obstruction of progressive coalitions was being more actively pursued. As the U.S. government purportedly defended democratic values in Korea, it systematically curtailed such rights at home, especially for those people and organizations that were critical of U.S. policies. Both Robeson and Du Bois, for example, were deprived of the right to international travel for much of the decade. In Robeson's case, the State Department argued that his advocacy of African self-determination could undermine U.S. policy in the region.11
In addition to grappling with civil liberties issues, the council struggled with diminishing financial support as a consequence of the Cold War climate. The organization's deficit prevented the summer issues of New Africa from being published.12 They did offer several publications for sale in 1950, including “Nigeria—Why We Fight for Freedom,” a bibliography of resources about the continent, and an overview of current liberation struggles by Alphaeus Hunton titled “Africa Fights for Freedom” with an introduction by Eslanda Robeson. A meticulous combing of sources on Africa was also compiled under the heading “Current Data Concerning Economic, Social, and Political Conditions in Certain African Colonial Territories,” which could be distributed to UN officials. In “Africa Fights for Freedom,” Hunton outlined the growing resistance in places like Algeria, Uganda, Nigeria, and the Gold Coast, noting that “the Africa of 1950 is not the Africa of 1920 or 1940.”13 In his closing, he adroitly linked the fight against colonialism in Africa with the freedom struggle of African Americans. Hunton argued that just as “the colonial peoples' resistance is at the very core of the present world struggle,” “the Negro peoples' struggle for full equality and democracy is at the core of the fight against American fascism.” Support for the anticolonial movement was, then, fundamental in guaranteeing “the successful building of a new world order of peace, friendship, and equality among all peoples.”14 Thus, even as the group wrestled with financial woes (p.150) and government repression, the council continued to disseminate information concerning the continent at a vital moment when colonial independence movements were gaining momentum. Significantly, the council's positions on peace in Korea and colonial freedom were connected to the necessity of obtaining full citizenship for African Americans. The following year, however, was full of even more upheaval for the organization.
In 1951, publication of New Africa was again interrupted. This time it was due to the incarceration of council secretary Alphaeus Hunton. A letter to council members and supporters in the summer of 1951 solicited support in securing Hunton's freedom.15 Hunton's predicament stemmed from his work with the Civil Rights Congress. The CRC, like the other groups on the government's subversive list, was confronting increased government scrutiny. That summer, Hunton, along with three other trustees of a bail fund maintained by the Civil Rights Congress, refused to divulge information about its contributors. For protecting the bail fund's financial supporters, Hunton received a sentence of six months in prison for con-tempt of court. Having been refused bail, he spent the second half of the year in a segregated penitentiary in Virginia, passing the days by working in the facility's small library.16
Discouraging news continued when the cover of the September 1951 issue of New Africa confirmed for readers that Hunton was in jail and also announced that council vicechairman W.E.B. Du Bois was under indictment in federal court for his peace advocacy. He had refused to register as an agent of a foreign government as requested by the Justice Department for his work with the Peace Information Center. This group had circulated petitions against the nuclear bomb and disseminated information on the worldwide peace movement. Du Bois and the other defendants from the recently dissolved Peace Information Center were acquitted in November 1951. But the experience had been jarring for the eighty-three-year-old scholar-activist. Du Bois questioned why the U.S. government would attempt to jail five citizens who had no wealth or power left. He concluded that the State Department had been roused because, despite the government's militarism,”a small group of no influence was bringing out an extraordinary evidence of peace sentiment in this country.”17 By early 1952, Hunton was back at his council desk and noted in an editorial that he was grateful for all of the genial messages that greeted him upon his return to New York from (p.151) what he euphemistically referred to as his “enforced ‘vacation.’”18 Indeed, an interracial crowd of over one hundred had welcomed Hunton at the airport. Herbert Aptheker directly bestowed his friend with a copy of his new book, A Documentary History of the Negro People in the United States, which had been denied to Hunton while in prison on the grounds that it was too incendiary.19
After Hunton's return, the group organized several protest campaigns in the spring of 1952. Over one hundred picketers joined the organization in a demonstration in front of the French consulate in New York in support of Tunisian freedom.20 In April, the Council on African Affairs focused on demonstrating solidarity with the defiance campaigns being waged in South Africa. An editorial from Robeson in Spotlight on Africa, the new title of their newsletter, urged African Americans to be inspired by the mass action in South Africa. He implored readers to imagine the black community in the United States unified in a “great and compelling action to put a stop to Jim Crow” just as millions of victims of an even more savage regime were forming a common front of “resolute resistance.”21
That month, the council called for a moment of silence in all African American churches and communities on the Sunday when the defiance campaigns were launched. The group also sponsored an outdoor rally in Harlem followed by several days of picketing the South African consulate in New York.22 Signs carried by protesters called for an end to U.S. financial support of the South African government. The mass civil disobedience had been planned by numerous activist and trade union organizations in South Africa as a response to Prime Minister Malan's oppressive administration. The New York Times reported that several thousand South African freedom fighters had marched to the voice of Paul Robeson being played over a loudspeaker.23 The council chairman's unmistakable voice had resonated not only at the street rally in Harlem as he called for South African freedom but also across an ocean in the streets of Johannesburg as South Africans mobilized against the strictures of apartheid legislation.
The defiance campaigns, as well as the social and political circumstances for nonwhite people, were detailed in a 1953 pamphlet distributed by the council titled “Resistance Against Fascist Enslavement in South Africa.” In it, the text of a memorandum to the United Nations from the African National Congress and the South African Indian Congress was reprinted, (p.152) along with a postscript by Hunton where he itemized U.S. financial investments in South Africa and queried, if the United States could not do business with Hitler, “what about Malan?”24 In calling for support from Americans, Hunton noted that “the problem of Jim Crow” could not be separated “from the problem of Apartheid in South Africa,” especially when apartheid laws were paying big dividends to U.S. investors.25 Finally, Hunton encouraged readers to write to their congressmen or sign the council's petition demanding that the United States stop supporting the repressive administration in South Africa. The African National Congress, one of the groups that led the defiance campaigns, later thanked the Council on African Affairs for its continued acknowledgement and support of their movement. Their efforts had been labeled by the South African government as subversive, just as the council had been classified thusly by the U.S. government.26
In the early 1950s, resistance to British imperialism in Kenya prompted what the council labeled a “dirty war” in which scores of Kenyans were murdered and thousands more arrested and imprisoned, including a leader of the struggle, Jomo Kenyatta.27 In addition to continued coverage of events in Spotlight on Africa, the Council on African Affairs hosted a daylong conference on African freedom that highlighted the situation in Kenya in April 1954. Resolutions passed by the conferees included a strong declaration in support of African rights, including self-government. Another statement condemned British crimes in Kenya and called for the immediate release of Jomo Kenyatta and the restoration of civil rights for all Kenyans. This resolution even demanded that the United Nations take action to protect the people from acts of genocide by the British. A message of solidarity was also passed in support of the African National Congress and South African Indian Congress and their consistent efforts to fight racial discrimination in South Africa.28
In his keynote address at the meeting, W.E.B. Du Bois lamented that historically African Americans had not been more interested in or supportive of Africa. Outlining the generational distancing of Americans from Africa, he observed that “our help and inspiring understanding of the desperate problems of the dark continent have never been what they should have been.” Conversely, European and American imperialists had been engrossed with Africa but only to exploit its vast resources and then fight with each other for a larger share. Du Bois closed by admonishing the participants (p.153) that it was their duty to “understand thoroughly just what is going on in Africa” and then make some contribution toward black emancipation.29
Almost exactly a decade after the council's conference on the future of postwar Africa, the April 1954 meeting struck a more urgent tone. While the April 1944 conference had called for the United States to lead the way in forming an international body that would guide Africa to self-government, ten years later it was clear that the United States was collaborating with European colonizers. Though independence movements were growing in many territories, they did so in spite of Western opposition to self-determination expressed in the United Nations. Continued oppression of nonwhites in South Africa backed by U.S. dollars and the British brutality against Kenyans further illustrated the emptiness of the Atlantic Charter promises with regard to Africa. However, Africans were mobilizing, and this, the Council hoped, would strike a “death-blow to the myth of African inferiority” and provide a “tremendous impetus” to the struggle for African American rights.30
As early as 1953, as a consequence of Cold War politics, the Council on African Affairs was vying for its survival. The McCarran Internal Security Act legislated that any organization named subversive must register with the Subversive Activities Control Board (SACB) and Attorney General Herbert Brownell had ordered the council to do so on the grounds that the group was a front for the Communist Party. In response, the council argued that it had not been directed by the party nor was its stated purpose to aid the party. Rather, the group had always functioned to inform the public about Africa and generate support for the welfare of the people there. As evidence, the council cited its activities backing African liberation and sup-plied correspondence from African activists. Additionally, the group noted that its publications and newsletters were disseminated to libraries, scholars, and United Nations and governmental officials.31 A council press release also pointedly suggested that the real issue at stake was not its ties to the Communist Party but the right to advocate for the freedom of African people, “including the descendants of Africa who have yet to achieve their full liberty and rights here in the United States.”32
From 1953 to 1955, the Council on African Affairs was spending more time and resources defending its right to exist rather than carrying out its stated mission. With another hearing before the SACB scheduled for (p.154) July 1955, the council's leadership met in mid-June and decided to disband the organization. Summarizing the past and present work of the group, Hunton asserted that “continued government harassment” was making it “difficult if not impossible” to carry on its program and that the upcoming hearing would put “intolerable strain” on the functioning of the organization.33 Dissolution seemed the pragmatic course under the circumstances. In its final years, Hunton, especially, had worked tirelessly to keep the council operating. At the final meeting of the board, Paul Robeson commended Hunton's service to the cause of African freedom and his personal sacrifices “in the face of great difficulties.”34 The Council on African Affairs had weathered a world war in addition to a rancorous internal split, but government pressure, as well as waning support, signaled the end of the road. Still, the group had pioneered an important path and it was now up to other groups and individuals to stimulate U.S. interest in Africa.
Paradoxically, the Council on African Affairs was disbanded at a promising moment for anticolonial movements on the world stage. The Afro-Asian conference held in Bandung, Indonesia, in the spring of 1955 illustrated a growing momentum toward self-government in the colonized world. In his opening address, President Sukarno of Indonesia recollected that it was exactly 180 years ago that Paul Revere made the historic ride that marked the start of the American War for Independence. This was the first successful anticolonial war, but, Sukarno emphasized, it would not be completely won until colonialism everywhere was eliminated.35 Ironically, in the one hundred plus years since its revolution, the political climate had evolved and the United States was now allied with the colonizers, including Great Britain.
The Afro-Asian conference galvanized the attention of many in the African American community. In his ruminations on the congress, African American writer Richard Wright noted that the twenty-nine nations gathered at Bandung, who were “the despised, the insulted, the hurt, the dispossessed,” seemed to have little in common except “what their past relationship to the Western world had made them feel.”36 These feelings were not ameliorated when President Eisenhower declined to send official greetings to the meeting, though he had been urged to do so by Representative Adam Clayton Powell Jr., who attended of his own accord.37 Journalist Abner Berry hoped the meeting would inspire a close affiliation between (p.155) African Americans and the broader Afro-Asian world. He observed that the principles adopted at Bandung could help African Americans to understand the “essential unity of the demands of the world's colored peoples” and that it would then “be harder for the Negro people to remain separated in their freedom struggles from the majority of the world's peoples.”38
Enthusiasm for the Bandung meeting was practically palpable in the last two issues of the council's newsletter, Spotlight on Africa. The April 1955 issue carried a masthead stating”Bandung: Dawn of a New Era” and asserted that the Council on African Affairs was “proud and privileged” to dedicate an issue to sharing a sample of African and African American opinion on the historic meeting. Though council leaders Robeson and Du Bois wanted very much to attend the conference, continued passport restrictions prevented them from traveling to Indonesia. Still, they each conveyed warm greetings to the conferees. Robeson felt strongly disposed toward the ten principles adopted at Bandung that included respect for fundamental human rights and sovereignty of all nations as well as the equality of all races and abstention from intervention in the affairs of other nations. He reprinted them in his 1958 memoir, Here I Stand, declaring that it was upon this platform from Bandung that he took his political stand.39
One year following the momentous Brown v. Board of Education decision, Representative Powell stated at a press conference in Bandung that racism and second-class citizenship were on the way out in the United States, which sparked a firestorm of commentary in the black press and general approval in the mainstream press.40 While Powell might have been posturing to counter critiques of American policy that were presented at the conference, the Council on African Affairs maintained that Powell was in a position in which he could be of “service to the colored peoples of America, Africa, and Asia” if he would only focus on that rather than “capitalizing on anti-Communism and hunting headlines.”41 The conference, then, was not devoid of Cold War rhetoric. But, especially as seen in Sukarno's speech, the council believed that the significance of Bandung was its demonstration to a “Cold War weary world” that it was “possible and practicable for Communists, non-Communists, and anti-Communists to live together, meet together, speak together and contribute toward the common good and peace of all mankind.” Toward those goals, “Bandung marked a beginning.” “Let us begin, too!” the council encouraged its readers.42
(p.156) Those were the last words printed in the final issue of Spotlight on Africa. The Cold War climate had made it next to impossible for a group such as the Council on African Affairs, which embraced a Pan-African worldview but was sympathetic to the Communist Party's critique of the twin evils of colonialism and capitalism, to function. In the wake of the council's dissolution, other groups concerned with Africa emerged. For example, the American Committee on Africa (ACOA), formerly known as Americans for South African Resistance, was founded during the defiance campaigns of the early 1950s. Created as a program of the liberal civil rights group the Congress of Racial Equality (CORE), ACOA covered events on the continent in its organ, Africa Today. But, unlike Spotlight on Africa, the ACOA's newsletter was more critical of African freedom fighters in places like Algeria, Tunisia, and Kenya, revealing what some scholars have characterized as the “limited political horizons” of the group's leadership.43
With regard to South Africa, in particular, the council's legacy was perceptible years after its disbanding. Its publications, mass rallies, and the picketing of the consulate had helped to raise national consciousness about the political situation there. The United Nations eventually passed non-binding sanctions in 1962, and the following year the Kennedy administration stopped selling arms to South Africa.44 In 1977, an advocacy group that lobbied and provided up-to-date information about Africa to the U.S. public as well as Congress was founded. TransAfrica's educational program was reminiscent of the council's goal to enlighten the public on African issues. Under the leadership of Randall Robinson, in the mid-1980s TransAfrica advanced the campaign to end political repression and U.S. financial investment in South Africa through successful implementation of nonviolent tactics, including sit-ins and long-term picketing of the embassy in Washington, D.C. This action, collectively known as the Free South Africa Movement, ultimately attained a mass following and culminated in congressional passage of the Comprehensive Anti-Apartheid Act of 1986 that applied economic sanctions to South Africa.45 The call that Alphaeus Hunton had raised in his meticulous pamphlets on the economic underpinnings of fascist enslavement in South Africa had finally been fulfilled. Once the United States passed sanctions, Britain and other European countries followed and the first nails were pounded into the coffin of South African apartheid.
(p.157) Additionally, recent histories of the Cold War have fleshed out themes that were espoused in the council's body of literature. In his book The Global Cold War, Odd Arne Westad argues for the “need to understand the Cold War in light of the colonial experience.”46 The council's publications detailing political and social circumstances in Africa as well as United Nations votes during the early Cold War had helped demonstrate the impact of the East-versus-West mindset on burgeoning colonial independence movements. Historian Robert Dalleck has recently worked to puzzle out why “the most powerful and influential leaders of the twentieth century” failed “to attain the elusive goal of world peace at a time when their citizens were thirsting for tranquility.”47 The council's position in the post–World War II era definitely favored peace, and this message seemed to resonate with audiences at events the group sponsored. Moreover, Dalleck points out that U.S. diplomat George Kennan, whose famous long telegram helped instigate the policy of containment, lamented the fact that his “message of restraint” was less influential than his warnings of the danger of Soviet Communism. Kennan was also distressed by the “hysterical anticommunism of the 1950s” and opposed to the creation of NATO on the grounds that “no military threat existed that required the creation of a multilateral defense organization.”48 Thus, some of the council's positions, such as opposition to NATO, were corroborated within the State Department. Overall, Dalleck's book seems to suggest that another course, away from war and militarism, was lost in the wake of World War II. The Council on African Affairs had seen this at the time when its advocacy for peace went largely unheeded.
The council's call for African self-determination as well as full citizenship for African Americans did not see a groundswell in mass action until after the group's dissolution. These campaigns for civil rights in the United States and independence in Africa were carried out by the generation of activists that succeeded the Council on African Affairs, though some had been influenced by their work, as in the case of Kwame Nkrumah. In her book Race against Empire, historian Penny Von Eschen concludes that the silencing of left-wing groups such as the council meant that once the classical phase of the civil rights movement in the United States gained steam, “questions concerning political, economic, and social rights in an international context were neglected in favor of an exclusive focus on domestic (p.158) political and civil rights.”49 This was an unfortunate reality of the Cold War world. However, what was perhaps more significant than the gap that was left when the Council on African Affairs shut its doors was the way in which the group had functioned as a bridge between the early Pan-African movement, as exemplified in the first Pan-African congresses and Garveyism, and the post–World War II movement. Historian Kevin Gaines has pointed out that the “wartime social and political ferment … helped align the struggle against segregation in the United States with the African political renaissance of nationalism and anticolonialism.”50 The Council on African Affairs had been very active during the war years and was part of the ferment that helped inaugurate renewed campaigns for African American civil rights and independence in Africa in the late 1950s and 1960s.
When the Gold Coast became the independent nation of Ghana under Kwame Nkrumah's leadership in 1957, a phase of Pan-Africanism in the postindependence era was initiated. As the freedom movement in Africa pressed forward, numerous African American activists and artists journeyed to the continent and fostered new kinds of political and cultural exchanges.51 It was in this spirit that Nkrumah invited veteran PanAfricanist W.E.B. Du Bois to Ghana to work on an Encyclopedia Africana. In 1962, Alphaeus Hunton joined Du Bois to collaborate on the project. These former leaders of the Council on African Affairs had linked the cause of African freedom with that of African Americans and subjugated people around the globe. It was truly symbolic and perhaps fitting that both Alphaeus Hunton and W.E.B. Du Bois ultimately died in Africa. Two great PanAfricanists were swallowed by the earth of the mother continent.
“Where One is Enslaved, All Are in Chains”: Freedom Newspaper
In the spring of 1951, not long after the newspaper was founded, an earnest letter arrived at the offices of Freedom in New York. Already a reader as far away as Oklahoma felt moved to offer “my thanks to your little paper” and contribute “a few lines about things that are going on here in the deep south against the Negro.”52 The letter writer then explicated grim instances of rape going unpunished and Klu Klux Klan members violently chasing a World War II veteran and businessman out of town. Though it made for an unsettling read, letters such as this, which testified about the true (p.159) conditions facing African Americans, were central to the consciousnessraising mission that was at the heart of Freedom newspaper. This letter was also instructive in that the writer referred to Oklahoma as “the deep south.” Indeed, the mind of the South often seeped across geographic boundaries.
Another southerner from Kentucky penned a letter to Freedom detailing the impact of the newspaper in the local community. “Until recently,” the writer observed,”most of us here in Lexington were little interested in what was taking place in the far corners of the world—except sporting events.” However, the letter continued, “Now we are waking up.”53 The writer then explained that a local group was attempting to get a black candidate elected to city council in order to better represent the needs of their constituency. Though their efforts had not yet been fruitful, they were heartened to have gotten some white votes in the last election and were convinced that “eventually we will succeed.” The progressive newspaper's coverage of anticolonial struggles and other freedom movements around the world had fostered, in this case, a campaign to institute local democratic reforms.
One final letter from a college student in the South paid tribute to Paul Robeson and W.E.B. Du Bois as leaders who were “putting forth bold effort” to combat current political and social crises.54 The student urged these freedom fighters to lead on and assured the seasoned activists that his generation,”though weaker in terms of insight and experience,” would “measure up in [their] determination” to contribute to the present freedom struggle. This inspired writer, James Kelsaw, went on to write several articles as a southern correspondent for Freedom. His letter illustrated well the intergenerational nature of the newspaper. The staff of Freedom wanted its readership to be in touch with those who had fought for freedom in the past. Regular articles on history highlighted the insurrectionists who had fought against slavery, like Cinque, Harriet Tubman, and Frederick Douglass, or advocated for African humanity through poetry, such as Phylis Wheatley. In the narrative of Freedom, a trajectory of continuous leadership was presented from the freedom fighters of the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries to Du Bois, Robeson, and others in the early and middle twentieth century who were, in turn, conscious that James Kelsaw and his cohort would help foment the next phase of the civil rights revolution in the late 1950s and 1960s. The newspaper, thus, made space available in its pages for young artists and writers to engage in their crafts, and it covered the events (p.160) that were shaping their generation, such as the Korean War, burgeoning anticolonial movements, and school desegregation.
Freedom newspaper conjoined the primary impulses of both the Southern Negro Youth Congress and the Council on African Affairs by wedding left-wing analysis of the battles for domestic civil rights with global campaigns for colonial self-determination. This coverage was contextualized by rich reportage on history and culture of the Pan-African world. Though based in Harlem, the newspaper assembled a uniquely intergenerational group of contributors from various regions who shared a progressive political perspective and were galvanized by worldwide racial oppression, especially in the southern United States. Most, if not all, of Freedom's contributors were from the South, had relatives down there, or had experience organizing in that region and knew of the profound need for radical change, as the writer from Oklahoma indicated in his letter.
Unlike the council or SNYC, Freedom was conceived as a consequence of the Cold War. It was the reactionary nature of skewed reporting in this time period that led to its creation. Ultimately, the struggle for funding as well as antiradical pressure caused it to fold. For the few years of its existence, from 1950–1955, however, Freedom carved out a space for a progressive voice that denounced war, advocated for full freedom, and called for labor rights. The newspaper's unapologetically left-wing, internationalist perspective informed readers of global events and sometimes inspired them to act at home, like the letter writer from Kentucky. Most important, by its very name, the newspaper challenged the definition of freedom during a period of intense domestic repression and warmongering overseas. According to these activists, full freedom meant having the ability to speak in favor of African liberation without recrimination; and it meant being able to join or affiliate with the political party of one's choosing; it meant exercising all democratic rights enshrined in the U.S. Constitution; it meant being able to travel abroad regardless of one's political perspective; it meant having the opportunity to organize on behalf of working people. Evoking a previous era of oppression with its masthead, “Where One is Enslaved, All Are in Chains,” Freedom reminded its readers that the task that the great abolitionists had initiated was not yet complete.
(p.161) As anticommunism gained prominence in the public discourse, black activists, such as Paul Robeson, who outspokenly critiqued the Truman Doctrine, the Marshall Plan, or other Cold War legislation were maligned in the mainstream press and sometimes dissociated by the black press, as had occurred after the 1949 peace conference in Paris. Recent scholarship has found that by the late 1940s, there was more coverage of world Communism than European colonialism in most national black newspapers.55 Media voices from the left were becoming increasingly rare. For example, the People's Voice newspaper in New York disbanded in 1948. The Daily Worker out of New York was a mainstay of the Communist left and a few smaller regional papers, like Charlotta Bass's California Eagle, provided a reliable progressive perspective. Of the major national black newspapers, the Pittsburgh Courier, Baltimore Afro-American, and the Chicago Defender, the Afro-American was probably the most sympathetic to left-wing viewpoints. At the other end of the spectrum, Pittsburgh Courier columnist George Schuyler was relentlessly disparaging of radicalism.
Events in 1950 were also troubling for radicals. For instance, Robeson was banned by NBC from participating in a political broadcast with Eleanor Roosevelt in which he was slated to represent the Progressive Party's position on civil rights. This was also the first year of Robeson's enforced domestic confinement due to his passport revocation. Perhaps most disheartening was the outbreak of war on the Korean peninsula, which flew in the face of the international movement for peace. In the midst of the growing antiradical climate, Robeson and other progressive activists collaborated on a new monthly publication called Freedom. Though well intentioned and staffed by talented writers, the project faced considerable obstacles. Not only were the early 1950s difficult for radical publications but this was also the beginning of a period of general decline for black newspapers. As mainstream publications began to integrate more coverage on African American communities, it was challenging for black-owned newspapers to compete. The heyday of black newspapers was coming to an end.
In addition, the new mode of television soon challenged the dominance of print media.56
Financial solvency was also a perpetual difficulty for Freedom newspaper. In fact, the first issue noted that the project got up and running on a (p.162) “shoestring” budget.57 The paper was largely supported by subscriptions with help from the United Freedom Fund. The United Freedom Fund was a coordinating committee formed to raise money for progressive groups including the Council on African Affairs, Freedom newspaper, and the National Negro Labor Council. It sponsored the benefit concert tours Robeson undertook in the early 1950s.58 However, these initiatives failed to generate adequate revenue, in part, because newspaper subscriptions and concert ticket prices were intentionally kept at rates that would be accessible to the broadest possible audiences.59 In the spring of 1955, a financial appeal to its readership urged subscribers to renew, but the paper was forced to fold by summer.60
Though modest in size and relatively short-lived, Freedom left an impressive body of work. As one of few progressive newspapers, it was able to attract top-notch contributors from the political left. The team was headed by editor Louis Burnham, who had turned northward after SNYC was dissolved and following his stint as a southern organizer for Henry A. Wallace's Progressive Party campaign. Lorraine Hansberry poetically characterized Burnham, an important influence on her, as having a deep voice that was “so rich, so strong, so very certain” and imbued with a “profound literacy.” In Hansberry's memory, he sat in his office on 125th Street and occasionally glanced out the window, which “let him look at Harlem while he talked to me.” She concluded movingly that “the thing he had for our people was something marvelous … it was an open and adoring love that mawkishness never touched.”61
The general manager was George B. Murphy Jr., who had the newspaper business in his blood coming from the family that owned the Afro-American. Thelma Dale, who had worked with the Southern Negro Youth Congress and the National Negro Congress, took over that job toward the end of the paper's run. Members of the editorial board included labor organizer Revels Cayton, writer Shirley Graham, southern activist Modjeska Simkins, and Alphaeus Hunton with Paul Robeson serving as chairman. Beginning in November 1950, the staff produced regular issues, with some interruptions, until the summer of 1955. During that time, articles were contributed by W.E.B. Du Bois, historian Herbert Aptheker, William Patterson of the Civil Rights Congress, Councilman Ben Davis, and writers Howard Fast, John O. Killens, John Henrik Clarke, and Lloyd Brown.
(p.163) Known for his novel Iron City, Brown penned a pamphlet in support of Robeson's passport fight, “Lift Every Voice for Paul Robeson,” and collaborated on Robeson's featured column, “Here's My Story.” Activists from the Pan-African world submitted articles on their local freedom struggles. For example, Walter Sisulu and Z. K. Matthews offered editorials on South Africa, Robert F. Williams called for a student movement in North Carolina, Janet Jagan summarized the people's movement in British Guiana, and Jamaican trade unionist Harry Drayton chronicled labor organizing in the West Indies.
A prominent aspect of Freedom's legacy was the vital role of radical women. Recent research has demonstrated the significance of the work of activists from the political left who helped lay the groundwork for the new wave of feminism that emerged in the 1960s.62 Like the men who worked with the paper, many of these women were members of or affiliated with the Communist Party. Eslanda Robeson, who supported the Council on African Affairs, wrote articles on international politics, paying particular (p.164) attention to events in Africa. Shirley Graham, who married the venerable Du Bois in the early 1950s, contributed articles in addition to serving on the editorial board. Women such as Dorothy Burnham, Yvonne Gregory, Vicki Garvin, Thelma Dale, and Beulah Richardson helped establish and maintain the valuable progressive journalism on culture, civil rights, and labor issues with which Freedom was identified. Their reporting often paid particular attention to women in an era when this practice was far from commonplace. An article by Dorothy Hunton after her husband Alphaeus's release from prison was particularly illuminating in this regard. After enduring the hardship of his incarceration, Dorothy reflected that the experience had actually been an “opportunity and gain” in that it had made her a “new wife” because she had learned that her true place was with those who endeavored “to make this a decent world in which to live.” She urged others to join her: “The time has come when we Negro women, especially, must unite and work together for the freedom and dignity of our people.”63
In addition to providing an important space for progressive authors and historians to practice their crafts, Freedom nurtured the careers of developing writers who became significant African American voices in the literary community. Alice Childress's fictional, but remarkably vibrant and realistic “Conversations from Life” series was one of the most memorable and enduring features in Freedom.64 Childress, born in South Carolina, was three generations removed from enslavement. She grew up in New York and worked for a time as a domestic laborer, which helped inform the depiction of Mildred in her Freedom column. Mildred is a working-class protagonist somewhat akin to Langston Hughes's Jesse B. Simple character. Childress imaginatively outlines a uniquely one-sided dialogue between Mildred, a daytime domestic worker, and her friend Marge. Though Marge's voice is never heard directly, the reader can picture her clearly from Mildred's lively reactions. Through these well-crafted vignettes, Childress addressed labor and political issues in a way that was poignant and accessible to readers. Mildred ruminated on class, gender, and familial relationships, as well as racial identity, from the perspective of one of the folk. For example, Childress's envisioning of Mildred's feelings about attending a meeting on African freedom could convey a personal, nuanced viewpoint on the anticolonial movements that was not necessarily possible through straight reporting.
(p.165) Mildred's good humor, which espoused dignity against the daily assaults wrought by segregation and low-wage labor, imbued Freedom with a potent female voice that was powerful, in part, because of her straightforwardness and unpretentious humanity. As a consequence of her left-wing political affiliations, Childress's columns were largely overlooked when they were collected into a single volume in 1956. Historian Mary Helen Washington has thoughtfully observed that the “sharp political critique” of the individual columns was lost in the collection, as was the reciprocal relationship between the columns and the content in Freedom. Mildred was an ally for the newspaper who aimed to educate its audience because she could complement “the political energy of the paper” from a working-class female perspective.65 Childress's inspired portrayal of a working-class heroine without condescension presaged literary characterizations of black women in the 1970s and 1980s.66
Probably the most celebrated career that was cultivated, in part, through her experience at Freedom was that of writer Lorraine Hansberry. She was only twenty years old when she first sat before the editor's desk and she was glad to be working for “the journal of Negro liberation.”67 Hansberry grew up in the African American community on the South Side of Chicago, but she was not unfamiliar with the southern states from which her family migrated. Her parents were both from the South and her family history included the painful memory of an uncle who was lynched during the Arkansas riot of 1919.68 As a girl, Hansberry traveled to Tennessee to visit her mother's birthplace and meet her maternal grandmother. Having been born during slavery, the grandmother Hansberry encountered was, in her words, “wrinkled as a prune,” but she “could still rock and talk” and her memories of that previous era “didn't sound anything like Gone with the Wind.”69 Hansberry's parents were both college educated and active in the Chicago community, which was bustling with artists, intellectuals, and activists. During Lorraine's adolescence, her father Carl Hansberry fought against housing segregation, and his presence is embedded in her most profound literary and commercial success, A Raisin in the Sun.70
She became involved with the Communist Party during a short stint at the University of Wisconsin, but it was in New York working for Freedom that Hansberry's writing and her burgeoning political consciousness were guided by seasoned intellectuals and organizers. The strong female (p.166) presence at the newspaper fostered her dedication to women's issues, and it was Louis Burnham who encouraged her playwriting.71 Two highlights of her rapid ascent from clerical staff to associate editor were her coverage of the Sojourners for Truth and Justice march in the autumn of 1951 and her participation in a peace conference in Montevideo, Uruguay, the following year.
The Sojourners for Truth and Justice were 132 wives and mothers from fifteen states that had been victims of racism. They journeyed together to Washington to lobby for redress. These women knew the pain of having family members lynched, sons lost in Korea, relatives viciously beaten, and passports capriciously revoked. According to Hansberry, the slogan of the sojourn became “Negro women, dry your tears and speak your mind.”72 Her full-page story described with care the narratives the women brought with them to the nation's capital and their meeting with a representative in the Justice Department. Hansberry's empathy for these women was apparent in her conscientious rendering of the sense of purpose imbued in their assembling.
Hansberry attended the Inter-Continental Peace Congress in Uruguay in the spring of 1952 and conveyed greetings from Paul Robeson who could not travel internationally.73 With 250 delegates representing nine countries, the conference carried on despite intimidation from the U.S. State Department. Thousands of miles from home, she penned in her article, a crowd of five thousand stood cheering when Hansberry graced the stage to relay Robeson's message to the meeting. In those first years at Freedom, her writing was honed as her output grew and the conviction of a young activist undergirded her words on the page.
Just as her interaction with the Freedom family was central to Hansberry's political and literary development, her contributions were vital to the journalistic integrity of the newspaper. Hansberry's clear prose connected the reader with the core issues of her pieces, whether on the freedom struggle in Egypt or the dearth of dignified African American roles on television. By 1953, bolstered with greater confidence as a writer, she began devoting more time to her own projects. By the end of the decade, she was propelled into the international spotlight as the young recipient of the New York Drama Critics' Circle Award for the best American play of 1959. By chance, Hansberry and Robeson were featured on the same (p.167) page of the Afro-American in the spring of that year.74 A generational shift was inadvertently but poetically implied: a lengthy article and large photo trumpeting the success of A Raisin in the Sun dominated the page where a comparatively tiny piece announced the opening of Paul Robeson's Othello in England. Robeson's portrayal fleshed out the dignity in Shakespeare's Moor, a character conceived in the early seventeenth century. Hansberry, in comparison, had created a modern portrayal of black identity that was both grounded in realism and tenderly human. The playwright, whose early writing career had blossomed at Robeson's newspaper, was now at the pinnacle of her profession, while the seasoned artist-activist was nearing the end of his life on the stage.
The men and women contributors to Freedom, then, represented a coalition of progressive-minded writers and activists who, in spite of FBI surveillance and other forms of pressure, offered a left-wing analysis of contemporary issues. In fact, their work was significant not only because they functioned in spite of Cold War reactionism but because they came together in response to right-wing vitriol and defamation by the mainstream media. The contributors voiced with conviction an internationalist perspective based on a strong sense of history while paying close attention to anticolonial rumblings. Their shared southern roots and experience organizing in the South meant that the burgeoning freedom movement in that region was a central focus of the newspaper. While the Southern Negro Youth Congress and the Council on African Affairs confronted Cold War politics as well-established organizations, Freedom was born as a consequence of the unsettling circumstances of domestic repression and was short-lived.
An editorial in the inaugural issue connected Freedom with the journalistic roots of Freedom's Journal, the first African American newspaper in the United States, founded in 1827. The piece pointed out that African Americans in 1950 remained “sorely aggrieved,” as their forebears had been in the early nineteenth century. The founders of Freedom pledged to make the newspaper “an instrument for our people's unity and for their cooperation with our true friends in labor and progressive social action.”75 In his opening column for the introductory issue, Robeson outlined the vision of the newspaper. Framed by an encounter with a man on the street who inquired whether he was born in Russia, Robeson's account acutely surveyed (p.168) the Cold War media landscape. He reminded the reader that the question of his national origin reflected the characterization by “the masters of the press and radio” that “a person who fights for peace, for the admission of People's China to the UN, for friendship with the Soviet Union, for labor's rights and for full equality for Negroes now cannot be a ‘real’ American, [he] must have been ‘born in Russia.’” Robeson emphasized his southern heritage and his father's enslavement while arguing vehemently against the new enslavement that prevented many African Americans from having access to “decent homes, decent jobs, and the dignity that belongs to every human being.” By advocating for peace, labor, and civil rights, Freedom could be “the real voice of the oppressed masses of Negro people.”
As the specter of war drew closer to the United States in early 1941, President Roosevelt outlined Four Freedoms that conveyed the importance of entering the antifascist struggle against Germany and Japan. These freedoms—freedom of speech, freedom from want, freedom from fear, freedom of religion—helped juxtapose democracy with fascism and explain the purpose of the war in basic terms with which all Americans could readily identify. During World War II, the SNYC had utilized the idiom of the Four Freedoms to argue in favor of civil rights for African Americans. Similarly, the Council on African Affairs had employed the Four Freedoms as a metaphor in contending for African freedom. After the close of the war, it became clear that full freedom for Africans and African Americans was not going to be included in immediate postwar planning. In fact, as the Cold War descended, the rhetoric of freedom changed significantly. For example, rather than wait for the United Nations to act, Africans began campaigns to achieve freedom from colonial rule through political movements (as in the Gold Coast) and by militant action (as in Kenya). The political landscape for the African American struggle for civil rights was complicated by suppressions of freedom in the name of anticommunism as seen in the hostility toward SNYC's 1948 Birmingham conference.
Thus, when Freedom newspaper was born during the Cold War, the meaning of freedom had evolved considerably since World War II when FDR's Four Freedoms had offered such a clear definition. In examining the pages of Freedom over approximately five years, the themes that emerge present an instructive interpretation of the meaning of freedom during one of the most repressive periods in United States history. Whereas (p.169) Roosevelt's Four Freedoms stood in defiance of fascist ideology overseas, the four freedoms conveyed in Freedom newspaper countered expressions of international fascism as well as manifestations of domestic fascism that were specific to the Cold War context. They were: Freedom for the colonial world, freedom to organize, freedom from persecution, and freedom from Jim Crow. Had Roosevelt's Four Freedoms been sincerely implemented during the war and the immediate postwar era, there might have been no need for Freedom newspaper.
The call for freedom in the colonial world was an unmistakable component of the international perspective of Freedom newspaper. This conception included both independence from European colonizers as well as political and social freedom from the strictures of the South African apartheid system. Though the paper did not last long enough to celebrate the birth of Pan-African freedom in Ghana in 1957, articles in Freedom carefully followed anticolonial developments around the world. Coverage included the West Indies, British Guiana, Guatemala, the Gold Coast, Egypt, Kenya, Nigeria, South Africa, and the Bandung conference. Special correspondents submitted numerous articles, which meant that reports from places such as the West Indies and British Guiana were firsthand. Not surprisingly given the contributions of Hunton, Du Bois, and both Robesons, reporting on South Africa was detailed with special attention paid to the defiance campaigns in the early 1950s and the freedom charter of 1955. Messages of solidarity from the African National Congress paralleled the apartheid system with racial segregation in the United States.
Perhaps most notable was the June 1953 issue that was dedicated to Africa. Under the headline “Africa: Key to War or Peace,” articles elucidated African culture and the historical scramble to control resources as well as contemporary events. Significantly, the issue also included a section on African leaders titled “Let Africans Speak for Africa!” Along with photos and brief biographies, excerpts from speeches illuminated an African perspective on issues such as Communism, nationalism, the Mau Mau movement, and the role of the United States on the continent. A large map occupying two full pages plainly defined the meaning of colonialism and identified military bases as well as strategic mineral deposits while clarifying the political status of specific regions. So as not to leave any doubt about the role of the United States on the continent, a sidebar next to the map described (p.170) how American companies like Monsanto, Union Carbide, and Gulf Oil were reaping huge profits from raw materials while the masses of Africans remained impoverished. Alice Childress's “Conversations from Life” column adroitly demonstrated an African American connection to the continent when Mildred depicted her visit to a community meeting on Africa. She was moved to learn how South Africans were defying segregation and was aroused by the discussion about the future of Africa. “All of a sudden,” Mildred relayed,”I jumped straight up and hollered,'There ain't no mystery about that! Africans want to be free!’” It was no mystery either that Freedom newspaper aimed to educate and unite Americans on the cause of colonial freedom.
Also, maintaining the freedom to organize was expressed in the newspaper through coverage that backed labor organizing as well as restoring the freedom to support organizing on behalf of peace. Freedom disseminated information on the National Negro Labor Council (NNLC), which was a coalition of African American workers from various CIO unions allied with sympathetic whites and nonunionized blacks to improve the economic and social status of all working Americans. The newspaper covered, for example, racial bias against railroad workers as well as efforts on behalf of fishermen in Virginia and sugarcane workers in Louisiana. However, labor organizing in the South was not promising at this time. During the late 1940s through the early 1950s, the CIO had undertaken a major campaign to organize in the South, which historically had the least unionized workforce in the country. Their campaign, however, was ultimately unsuccessful as the region remained largely resistant to organizing. Moreover, New Deal labor coalitions were weakening in the postwar period and the shift to conservatism and anticommunism in both mainstream and political culture inhibited southern organizing.76
Additionally, in the early 1950s, when Freedom was published, the labor movement was undergoing a shift to the right. The Taft-Hartley Act of 1947 had restricted union organizing and obstructed radical leaders through means such as loyalty oaths.77 The CIO purged from its alliance many left-wing unions, including the International Longshore and Ware-house Union and the International Union of Mine, Mill, and Smelter Workers, which had grown with energetic participation from Communist Party members and affiliates in the 1930s and 1940s.78 Its partnership with (p.171) the AFL, solidified in the mid-1950s, sealed the CIO's break with the left after having expelled scores of female and nonwhite members in the purges. In one of Freedom's final issues, Vicki Garvin wondered whether the AFL-CIO merger would signal new hope for black labor. She acknowledged the potential for a larger membership base to foster “decisive struggles to end job discrimination” for black and women workers but cautioned that “continuous struggles must be waged” within the labor movement to ensure “greater protection for all workers.”79 Unfortunately, in hindsight, historians have pointed out that following the merger, the AFL-CIO was no more effective at organizing in the South; furthermore, the expulsion of left-wing unions from the CIO resulted in fewer campaigns to unionize women and workers of color.80 The response to Garvin's question, then, was decidedly in the negative.
Freedom also advocated organizing for peace especially during the war in Korea. Criticism of the war was rarely printed in other black newspapers.81 Paul Robeson contended that decisive effort toward civil rights would not occur while the nation was preoccupied by war. In a May 1951 column, he emphasized that African American soldiers were “not helping to tear down one single ‘Colored Only’ sign by dying in Korea.” Freedom printed a speech before a NNLC meeting in which Robeson connected labor interests and the peace movement. Encouraging workers to condemn the anticommunist warmongering foreign policy that their tax dollars were supporting, Robeson observed that it was not foreign Communists but southern landlords that were exploiting black sharecroppers.82 In an interview published in Freedom, a wounded Korean War veteran made a similar point. He urged the public to “sit down and think” about “what their sons are fighting for.” And maybe then Americans would also “get their heads together and stop all this segregation.”83
Freedom also reported on international peace meetings such as the one Hansberry attended in Uruguay. Dorothy Burnham reported on the meeting of the World Congress of Women that convened in Denmark in 1953. Burnham noted that on several occasions at the conference, the U.S. delegation was directly confronted and prodded to “bring the majority of the US actively to our side.”84 Coverage of the indictment of Du Bois for his support of the Peace Information Center accentuated the community groups, labor unions, and individuals who rallied to his support.85 In a Freedom article (p.172) in his defense, Du Bois stressed that he had “the right within the law … to fight for peace.”86 Robeson's position for peace also presciently contended that current U.S. policy was only going to lead to more war. He worried that support for European colonizers would entangle American forces in other Asian or African nations. “We must insist,” Robeson declared in 1953, “that the French rule in France and leave the Vietnamese to govern themselves.”87 Regrettably, the Vietnamese would face many more years of conflict.
Finally, the need for freedom from persecution was apparent in Freedom's coverage of cases of wrongful imprisonment that were rooted in racial discrimination. The prosecution of citizens for their political views under the Smith Act was also a recurring theme in the newspaper. For example, New Orleans native Roosevelt Ward was arrested for evading the draft in 1951, but he understood that the charges actually stemmed from his involvement with the labor movement. While in a southern jail, he wrote to Freedom that his fellow prisoners all agreed that injustice was regularly meted out to African Americans who were politically active. “Any little old frame-up, especially for a Negro, is good enough,” Ward concluded when he realized how many inmates were incarcerated on “flimsy charges.”88
In 1951, the newspaper reported on two southern rape cases: those of Willie McGee and the Martinsville Seven. Louis Burnham traveled to Mississippi to investigate the McGee case in 1945 and had written a thorough report that was “one of the most reliable things ever written about the case.”89 Despite cries against the dubious guilty verdict from the all-white jury, McGee was executed in 1951, as were each of the African American youths from Martinsville, Virginia.90 Freedom urged readers to support parole for Georgia mother Rosa Lee Ingram and her two sons who had defended themselves from the violent attack of a white farmer in the late 1940s.91 Attorney William Patterson, of the Civil Rights Congress, which supported the defendants in many of these cases, encouraged a movement on behalf of Robert Wells Brown. His sentence was vastly out of proportion with the crime that had been committed and illustrated that such cases of injustice were, in Patterson's words, “an inseparable part of struggles of greater political depth and scope.”92 The extradition order for Edward Brown to return to a Georgia chain gang was ultimately withdrawn, in part because of support from Freedom, which published Brown's shocking (p.173) account of the tortures to which he was subjected while in custody.93 Thus, by advocating for justice in cases such as these, Freedom demonstrated, in keeping with the spirit of its masthead, that legal action for individuals was an indelible component of the broader movement for civil rights.
Several articles in Freedom connected the repression of perceived radicals with racial discrimination since both manifestations of injustice aimed to subjugate the democratic rights of citizens. In an article decrying the lack of support for Ethel and Julius Rosenberg in the African American community, William Patterson pointed out that the Rosenbergs advocated for peace and could have been important allies in the struggle for colonial independence and domestic civil rights. After all, Patterson concluded, it was the same court system that framed the Jewish couple that had framed Rosa Lee Ingram, Willie McGee, and other African Americans.94 In an insightful article examining the Smith Act, W.E.B. Du Bois contended that the prosecutions in the name of this law were punishing mere thought crimes. While the United States purported to stand for democracy, it was clamping down on anyone who tried to understand and explain how “the technical processes of production and wealth” could be made more equitable. Because so many people were “comfortable and powerful” due to the current system of production and its unequal distribution of wealth, the Smith Act aimed to silence adherents of dissenting political ideologies.95
An article on Alabama-born activist Pettis Perry, a Smith Act defendant, explained why this African American from a sharecropping family joined the Communist Party. He had witnessed racial violence in his youth but was intrigued when the International Labor Defense (ILD) took on the case of the Scottsboro boys in the 1930s. Perry then attended a picnic sponsored by the ILD where a sheriff threatened the mostly white group, demanding that the blacks with them had to disperse. The whites refused and Perry recalled his reaction: “I'd never seen a mass of white people standing together for Negro rights. [It] made quite an impression on me.”96 Another article focusing on African American targets of the Smith Act, like Claude Lightfoot, Ben Davis, and West Indian Claudia Jones, cogently linked the law with the issue of protecting minority rights. The piece contended that radical alteration of American life was necessary to uphold African American rights. Moreover, whether that change took place “along the lines [that] Communists advocate is not the point at issue. The point is that (p.174) any law which prohibits Communists from saying what they please … can be used to justify similar prohibitions against other minorities and against Negroes.”97
The prosecution of radicals, then, was a vital theme in Freedom because such defendants could be champions of African American rights. In addition, the prosecution of radicals for their political beliefs could lead to further obstruction of the rights of minority groups, including African Americans. Paul Robeson's passport case was a good example: it was not his affiliation with Communist Party members but his advocacy for African liberation that led to his passport revocation.98 All citizens, Freedom insisted, should be wary when one group is persecuted, because a similar rationale could easily be levied against other minority groups.
Finally, freedom from Jim Crow was a theme that percolated across the pages of Freedom newspaper. Its coverage of segregation was broad. Articles uncovered slums in New York, segregation in government jobs, the need for hospitals in Brooklyn, and discrimination against dark skinned immigrants. Reporting on schools, both in the North and South, was prominent in Freedom as the Brown v. Board of Education decision meandered through the court system. As the backlash against the Supreme Court decision grew more violent, Freedom correctly predicted that a mass movement was necessary to enforce the ruling. Just as Brown consolidated cases of school segregation from around the country, Freedom's articles on schools in New York illustrated that inequities in public education were not only a southern phenomenon. For instance, a piece by Lorraine Hansberry detailed the overcrowding and underfunding of Harlem schools.99 Kenneth B. Clark, who actively supported the Brown case, traced the history of public education in New York and called for a new study to shed light on conditions in northern schools.100
In November 1953, about seven months before the Brown decision, a lengthy cover story explained the history and significance of the cases. In this article, Harriet Bourne observed that new legal precedent could be set: not since the Plessy v. Ferguson ruling over a half-century ago had the Supreme Court grappled with the constitutionality of segregation law. She also insightfully pointed out that southern lawmakers were already laying plans to circumvent integration should the decision rule against racial segregation. The following August, three months after the May 1954 ruling, (p.175) another cover feature called for a popular movement to push for enforcement of Brown. Surveying the scant progress toward compliance with the decision in seventeen states, the article concluded that “the law of the land remains primarily where the justices put it—on paper.”
A March 1955 article by Thelma Dale chronicled the southern counterattack. While state legislatures passed measures like preventing money from being budgeted for desegregated schools, White Citizen's Councils were being formed to apply pressure to African Americans who advocated implementation of Brown. For instance, a doctor in Mississippi who had publicly supported the decision started losing business. His patients had been warned that if they did not find another doctor, they would lose their jobs or their credit. Dale also skillfully linked the issue of continued disfranchisement with the desegregation order. If whites protected their political power base by preventing black voting, she pointed out, they could more effectively obstruct local and state integration of schools.
In its final issues in the spring and summer of 1955, alongside coverage of the Bandung meeting, Freedom documented an acute situation: the Brown ruling was in danger and terrorism was growing in the South.101 That spring, when the court heard arguments on a timeline for Brown, Thurgood Marshall was dismayed that “only the Negro attorneys argued for immediate enforcement of last year's decision.” Thelma Dale summarized the grim circumstances: southern states were “fighting integration with every weapon” while border states “straddled the fence” and the Eisenhower administration seemed to be in league with the Dixiecrats. The final issue of Freedom reported that a southern “offensive” had “gained murderous momentum” in the wake of the Supreme Court's ruling. The unprosecuted lynching of Lamar Smith, an African American activist in Mississippi, was indicative of the hostile attitude toward the Brown decision. In a pamphlet published by Freedom Associates, Louis Burnham foresaw the unfortunate long-term consequences of the Brown rulings. “It is generally recognized,” Burnham wrote, “that the Supreme Court decrees of May 31, 1955 … encouraged nullification of its original decision by placing implementation in the hands of … the Southern racist politicians with no specific time-limit for compliance.”102 Indeed, the follow-up decision rendered that spring, which infamously called for implementation “with all deliberate speed,” ensured that little to no significant progress toward school desegregation (p.176) would be made for years. Reflecting fifty years later, legal scholar Derrick Bell mused that Brown had become “the legal equivalent of that city on a hill to which all aspire without any serious thought that it will ever be attained.”103
Freedom folded prior to Eisenhower's dramatic backing of the Little Rock Nine and the groundswell of nonviolent direct action inaugurated in Montgomery, Alabama, for the bus boycott. However, the newspaper's insistence on freedom for the colonial world, freedom to organize, freedom from persecution, and freedom from Jim Crow shed light on the Cold War political landscape of the early 1950s. As certainly as FDR's Four Freedoms offered justification for entering World War II, these four freedoms advocated a path away from war and toward a more democratic nation with a more enlightened foreign policy. The newspaper staff knew that safeguarding these four freedoms was most crucial in the South where the assault against them was most vicious.
As Du Bois had contended in 1946 at the Southern Negro Youth Congress meeting, the southern United States was a gateway to the Pan-African world. In that spirit, Freedom newspaper crafted a narrative based on a progressive analysis of issues and events from across the African diaspora, which paid particular attention to the acute circumstances of southern African Americans. The radical critique of Freedom was grounded in the southern heritage and experiences of its founders and contributors. Freedom had been created as a consequence of slanted Cold War reporting, and the newspaper disbanded just as the classical phase of the civil rights struggle in the South was commencing. Many of the political long-distance runners who had been involved with SNYC and the Council on African Affairs as well as Freedom came together once again to establish a quarterly
(1) . Henry Steele Commager, “Who is Loyal to America?” in Freedom, Loyalty, Dissent (New York: Oxford University Press, 1954), 140.
(2) . Ibid., 143.
(3) . “The United States Objectives and Programs for National Security,” 7 April 1950, page 7. This source is available digitally through the Truman Library at http://www.trumanlibrary.org/whistlestop/study_collections/coldwar/documents/pdf/10–1.pdf.
(4) . Ibid.
(5) . Cong. Rec., 81st Congress, 2d Session, pt. 2, page 1954.
(6) . Council press release, 23 July 1950, Council on African Affairs Organizational Files, W. A. Hunton Papers.
(7) . W.E.B. Du Bois,”African Youth at Prague,” New Africa 9 (September 1950): 8. See also: W.E.B. Du Bois, In Battle for Peace (New York: Masses and Mainstream, 1952).
(8) . “A Protest and Plea,” 11 July 1950, Council on African Affairs Organizational Files, W. A. Hunton Papers.
(9) . Council press release, 6 September 1950, Council on African Affairs Organizational Files, W. A. Hunton Papers; New York Times, 29 August 1950.
(10) . Council press release, 8 September 1950, Council on African Affairs Organizational Files, W. A. Hunton Papers; New Africa 9 (September 1950): 2.
(11) . Robeson, Here I Stand, 64; Freedom 2 (April 1952): 5.
(12) . New Africa 9 (September 1950): 3.
(13) . Alphaeus Hunton, “Africa Fights for Freedom” (New York: New Century, 1950), 10. An excerpt of this pamphlet was reprinted as “Upsurge in Africa,” Masses and Mainstream 3 (February 1950): 12–21.
(14) . Ibid., 15.
(15) . Letter to council members from Robeson, 25 August 1951, Council on African Affairs Organizational Files, W. A. Hunton Papers.
(16) . Dorothy Hunton, Alphaeus Hunton, 84–86; Gerald Horne, Communist Front? The Civil Rights Congress 1946–1956 (Cranbury, NJ: Associated University Presses, 1988), 241–45.
(17) . Du Bois, In Battle for Peace, 109.
(18) . Spotlight on Africa, 11 (1 February 1952): 1.
(19) . Dorothy Hunton, Alphaeus Hunton, 88.
(20) . Council press release, 21 March 1952, Council on African Affairs Organizational Files, W. A. Hunton Papers.
(21) . Spotlight on Africa 11 (25 February 1952): 1.
(22) . Ibid. (14 April 1952): 1.
(23) . New York Times, 7 April 1952.
(24) . “Resistance Against Fascist Enslavement in South Africa” (New York: New Century, 1953), 49.
(25) . Ibid., 48.
(26) . Council press release, 27 March 1952, Council on African Affairs Organizational Files, W. A. Hunton Papers; Letter to Robeson from Walter Sisulu, 9 June 1953, Council on African Affairs Organizational Files, W. A. Hunton Papers. The council also received a message of solidarity from the South African Indian Congress in May 1953, Spotlight on Africa 12 (11 June 1953): 1.
(27) . Spotlight on Africa 13 (18 May 1954): 1. See also: Caroline Elkins, Imperial Reckoning: The Untold Story of Britain's Gulag in Kenya (New York: Holt, 2005).
(28) . Resolutions Adopted at Conference in Support of African Liberation, 24 April 1954, Paul Robeson Collection, microfilm edition, reel 7, frames 125–26.
(29) . Keynote address by Dr. W.E.B. Du Bois, 24 April 1954, Matt N. and Evelyn Graves Crawford Papers.
(30) . Council press release, 9 April 1954, Council on African Affairs Organizational Files, W. A. Hunton Papers.
(31) . Council press release, 7 November 1954, Council on African Affairs Organizational Files, W. A. Hunton Papers; Spotlight on Africa 12 (11 June 1953): 1; “Here are the Facts, You Be the Judge: The Council Answers Attorney General Brownell,” Matt N. and Evelyn Graves Crawford Papers; Herbert Brownell Jr. v. Council on African Affairs in the Subversive Activities Control Board, Docket no. 110–53.
(32) . Council press release, 24 April 1953, Council on African Affairs Organizational Files, W. A. Hunton Papers.
(33) . Minutes of meeting of Executive Board, 14 June 1955, Council on African Affairs Organizational Files, W. A. Hunton Papers.
(34) . Ibid.
(35) . Africa Today 2 (May-June 1955): 2.
(36) . Richard Wright, The Color Curtain: A Report of the Bandung Conference (Jackson, MS: Banner Books, 1994), 12.
(37) . Daily Worker, 19, 20, 21 April 1955; Afro American, 30 April 1955; Spotlight on Africa 14 (April 1955): 15–16.
(38) . Daily Worker, 21 April 1955.
(39) . Robeson, Here I Stand, 46–47.
(40) . For example: New York Tribune, 18 April 1955; Afro American, 30 April and 7 May 1955; Pittsburgh Courier, 30 April 1955.
(41) . Spotlight on Africa 14 (May 1955): 21.
(42) . Ibid., 6 and 22.
(43) . Francis Njubi Nesbitt, Race for Sanctions: African Americans against Apartheid, 1946–1994 (Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 2004), 25.
(44) . Ibid., 9.
(45) . Chapter 6 in Nesbitt; Randall Robinson, Defending the Spirit: A Black Life in America (New York: Plume, 1999), 151–63; Have You Heard from Johannesburg: Apartheid and the Club of the West, directed by Connie Fields, Clarity Films, 2006.
(46) . Odd Arne Westad, The Global Cold War: Third World Interventions and the Making of Our Times (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2005), 5 and 7.
(47) . Robert Dalleck, The Lost Peace: Leadership in a Time of Horror and Hope, 1945–1953 (New York: Harper Collins, 2010), 7.
(48) . Ibid., 192.
(49) . Von Eschen, Race against Empire, 186.
(50) . Gaines, African Americans in Ghana, 17.
(51) . For example: Gaines, African Americans in Ghana; Alex Haley, The Autobiography of Malcolm X (New York: Ballantine Books, 1999); Stokely Carmichael with Ekwueme Michael Thelwell, Ready for Revolution: The Life and Struggles of Stokely Carmichael (New York: Scribner, 2003); Richard Wright, Black Power (New York: Harper Perennial, 1995).
(52) . Freedom 1 (March 1951): 2.
(53) . Freedom 2 (May 1952): 6.
(54) . Freedom 2 (April 1952): 6.
(55) . Robbie Lieberman, “‘Another Side of the Story’: African American Intellectuals Speak Out for Peace and Freedom during the Early Cold War Years,” in Anticommunism and the African American Freedom Movement, edited by Lieberman and Lang,, 26. Also: Barbara J. Beeching, “Paul Robeson and the Black Press: The 1950 Passport Controversy,” Journal of African American History 87 (Summer 2002): 339–54.
(56) . Lawrence Lamphere, “Paul Robeson, Freedom Newspaper, and the Black Press,” PhD diss., Boston College, 2003, 6–7; Patrick S. Washburn, The African American Newspaper: Voice of Freedom (Evanston, IL: Northwestern University Press, 2006), 5.
(57) . Freedom (November 1950): 4. (This was the introductory issue, and volume 1 started in 1951.)
(58) . “Minutes of United Freedom Fund Meeting,” 12 February 1952, and other related documents, Paul Robeson Collection, microfilm edition, reel 8.
(59) . Robeson Jr., The Undiscovered Paul Robeson, 230.
(60) . Freedom 5 (April 1955): 2.
(61) . Lorraine Hansberry, To Be Young, Gifted and Black: An Informal Autobiography of Lorraine Hansberry (New York: Signet Books, 1970), 99–100. The full piece, written after Burnham's sudden death in 1960, can be found in Box 2, Folder 13, Lorraine Hansberry Papers, Manuscripts, Archives, and Rare Books Division, Schomburg Center for Research in Black Culture, New York Public Library, New York, NY.
(62) . See, for example: Ransby, Eslanda; Gore, Radicalism at the Crossroads; Weigand, Red Feminism; Gerald Horne, Race Woman: The Lives of Shirley Graham Du Bois (New York: New York University Press, 2000); Robert Shaffer, “Out of the Shadows: The Political Writings of Eslanda Goode Robeson,” Pennsylvania History 66 (Winter 1999): 47–64; Gore, Theoharris, and Woodard, eds., Want to Start a Revolution?
(63) . Freedom 2 (January 1952): 4.
(64) . The columns were later published as: Alice Childress, Like One of the Family: Conversations from a Domestic's Life (Boston: Beacon, 1986).
(65) . Mary Helen Washington, “Alice Childress, Lorraine Hansberry, and Claudia Jones: Black Women Write the Popular Front,” in Left of the Color Line: Race, Radicalism, and Twentieth Century Literature of the United States, edited by Bill Mullen and James Smethurst (Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 2003), 189 and 192.
(66) . Childress, Like One of the Family, xxx–xxxi. In her introduction to Childress's collection, Trudier Harris notes that Childress was, at first, not compensated for the columns about Mildred in Freedom. When Freedom folded, the Afro-American picked up the popular series.
(67) . Hansberry, To Be Young, Gifted and Black, 97.
(68) . Judith E. Smith, Visions of Belonging: Family Stories, Popular Culture, and Postwar Democracy, 1940–1960 (New York: Columbia University Press, 2004), 288.
(69) . Hansberry, To Be Young, Gifted and Black, 53.
(70) . Smith, Visions of Belonging, 284–88; Michael Anderson, “Lorraine Hansberry's Freedom Family,” in Red Activists and Black Freedom, edited by Lewis, Nash, and Leab, 93 and 98.
(71) . Washington, “Alice Childress, Lorraine Hansberry, and Claudia Jones,” 193; Smith, Visions of Belonging, 307; Anderson, Eyes Off the Prize, 95.
(72) . Freedom 1 (October 1951): 6.
(73) . Freedom 2 (April 1952): 3.
(74) . Afro-American, 18 April 1959, page 15.
(75) . Freedom (November 1950): 4.
(76) . See, for example: Barbara S. Griffith, The Crisis of American Labor: Operation Dixie and the Defeat of the CIO (Philadelphia: Temple University Press, 1988). Had this campaign in the South been successful, it would have helped fulfill the vision of a movement uniting labor for civil rights change that was espoused in Freedom.
(77) . See, for example: chapter 6 in George Lipsitz, Class and Culture in Cold War America: “A Rainbow at Midnight” (New York: Praeger, 1981); the epilogue of Nelson Lichtenstein, Labor's War at Home: The CIO in World War II (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1982).
(78) . See, for example: Steve Rosswurm, ed., The CIO's Left-Led Unions (New Brunswick, NJ: Rutgers University Press, 1992).
(79) . Freedom 5 (March 1955): 5.
(80) . Lichtenstein, Labor's War at Home, 244; Rosswurm, The CIO's Left-Led Unions, 14.
(81) . Lieberman, “” 26.
(82) . Freedom 3 (October 1953): 6.
(83) . Freedom 1 (December 1951): 6.
(84) . Freedom 3 (September 1953): 3.
(85) . Freedom 1 (December 1951): 6.
(86) . Freedom 1 (March 1951): 4.
(87) . Freedom 3 (October 1953): 6
(88) . Freedom 1 (October 1951): 7.
(89) . Alex Heard, The Eyes of Willie McGee: A Tragedy of Race, Sex, and Secrets in the Jim Crow South (New York: Harper, 2010), 56.
(90) . Freedom 1 (February 1951): 1; Freedom 1 (May 1951): 1.
(91) . Freedom 2 (May 1952): 1. The Ingrams were eventually released on parole in 1959. For more on these cases, see, for example: Heard, The Eyes of Willie McGee; Horne, Communist Front?; Charles H. Martin, “Race, Gender, and Southern Justice: The Rosa Lee Ingram Case,” American Journal of Legal History 29 (July 1985): 251–68; Eric W. Rise, The Martinsville Seven: Race, Rape, and Capital Punishment (Charlottesville: University of Virginia Press, 1995).
(92) . Freedom 4 (February 1954): 1.
(93) . Freedom 2 (July 1952): 2; Freedom 5 (July/August 1955): 3.
(94) . Freedom 3 (January 1953): 3.
(95) . Freedom 3 (December 1953): 4.
(96) . Freedom 3 (February 1953): 2.
(97) . Freedom 5 (July/August 1955): 6.
(98) . Coverage of Robeson's passport case: Freedom 1 (November 1951): 8; 2 (April 1952): 5; 2 (June 1952): 1; 5 (July/August 1955): 1.
(99) . Freedom 2 (November 1952): 3.
(100) . Freedom 4 (February 1954): 3.
(101) . Freedom 5 (April 1955): 1; 5 (May/June 1955): 1; 5 (July/August 1955): 1.
(102) . Louis Burnham, “Behind the Lynching of Emmett Louis Till” (New York: Freedom Associates, 1955), 9.
(103) . Derrick Bell, Silent Covenants: Brown v. Board of Education and the Unfulfilled Hopes for Racial Reform (New York: Oxford University Press, 2004), 4.