The Lost History of Southern Communism

This is the firing line not simply for the emancipation of the American Negro but for the emancipation of the African Negro and the Negroes of the West Indies; for the emancipation of the colored races; and for the emancipation of the white slaves of modern capitalistic monopoly.” W.E.B. Du Bois delivered these lines before a large crowd in Columbia, S.C., in the fall of 1946. The people gathered before him were neither strictly Marxist nor communist; they were mostly members of the Southern Negro Youth Congress, which was founded in 1937 to organize young people, workers, and other disaffected groups across the South. But no one in that audience was shocked by what he had to say. For them, like Du Bois, breaking the back of Southern white supremacy required challenging and remaking the larger system of exploitative capitalism that had subjected black and white Southerners to centuries of injustice. With the Congress of Industrial Organizations executing its Operation Dixie to organize industrial workers in the South that year and with African American veterans back from the war embarking on their own militant and heroic struggle for human rights there, Du Bois’s insistence that the South had become the center of a new battle for freedom was in no way far from the truth.

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