The #BlackCommunistReadingList

fotorcreatedHere is a list of recommended books on African Americans and Communism. As a graduate student at the University of Illinois, I read many of these books to gain an intellectual understanding of why black Americans and other people African descent saw Communism as a political ideology through which to achieve black liberation. Harry Haywood’s Black Bolshevik provides a personal account of why a black man from Nebraska and a descendant of slaves would find Communism appealing. From this list, the reader will gain a comprehensive understanding of why communism and, consequently, the late Fidel Castro, was so appealing to black people throughout the diaspora. This list is not meant to be exhaustive but offers an introduction to the topic for readers interested in learning more. Feel free to add additional suggestions in the comments section.

Terrell Jermaine Starr is a freelance journalist in New York City. He writes about national security, U.S.-Russia relations and black progressive politics for publications that include the Washington Post, The New Republic, The Daily Beast. As a Fulbright Scholar, in Ukraine, he studied the nation’s black diaspora population and its relationship to communism, as well as U.S. Soviet relations. He has an M.S. in News-Editorial Journalism and an M.A. in Russian, Eastern European and Eurasian Studies from the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign. Follow him on Twitter @Russian_Starr.

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Comments on “The #BlackCommunistReadingList

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    Thanks for sharing this really useful reading list on the historical intersections of Communism and black radicalism! A few other key texts:
    ***Washington, Mary Helen. The Other Blacklist: The African American Literary and Cultural Left of the 1950s. Columbia University Press, 2014.
    ***Maxwell, William J. New Negro, Old Left: African-American Writing and Communism between the Wars. Columbia University Press, 1999.
    ***Smethurst, James Edward. The New Red Negro: The Literary Left and African American Poetry, 1930-1946. Oxford University Press, 1999.
    ***Baldwin, Kate A. Beyond the Color Line and the Iron Curtain: Reading Encounters between Black and Red, 1922–1963. Duke University Press, 2002.

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    Thank you very much for posting this. Here’s a few more (unable to italicize book titles):
    • Brownlee, Andrea Barnwell. Charles White. San Francisco, CA: Pomegranate Books, 2002.
    • Georgakas, Dan and Marvin Surkin. Detroit: I Do Mind Dying—A Study in Urban Revolution. Chicago, IL: Haymarket Books (1st ed., St. Martin’s Press, 1975).
    • Geschwender, James A. Class, Race, and Worker Insurgency: The League of Revolutionary Black Workers. New York: Cambridge University Press, 1977.
    • Hamlin, Michael (with Michelle Gibbs). A Black Revolutionary’s Life in Labor: Black Workers Power in Detroit. Detroit, MI: Against the Tide Books, 2013.
    • Herzog, Melanie Anne. Elizabeth Catlett: An American Artist in Mexico. Seattle, WA: University of Washington Press, 2005.
    • Horne, Gerald. Communist Front? The Civil Rights Congress, 1946-1956. Teaneck, NJ: Fairleigh Dickinson University Press/London: Associated University Presses, 1988.
    • Jackson, George L. Soledad Brother: The Prison Letters of George Jackson. Chicago, IL: Lawrence Hill Books, 1994 (first published in 1970, New York: Coward-McCann)
    • Jackson, George L. Blood in My Eye. Baltimore, MD: Black Classic Press, 1990.
    • Fabre, Michel. The Unfinished Quest of Richard Wright. Urbana, IL: University of Illinois Press, 1993.
    • Maxwell, William J. New Negro, Old Left: African American Writing and Communism Between the Wars. New York: Columbia University Press, 1999.
    • Morgan, Stacy I. Rethinking Social Realism: African American Art and Literature, 1930-1953. Athens, GA: University of Georgia Press, 2004.
    • Mullen, Bill V. Un-American: W.E.B. Du Bois and the Century of World Revolution. Philadelphia, PA: Temple University Press, 2015.

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    William Maxwell’s “New Negro, Old Left” is part of my syllabus.

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    What a wonderful list! I think that Claude McKay’s A Long Way From Home and Claude McKay, and Gary Edward Holcomb’s Code Name Sasha: Queer Black Marxism and the Harlem Renaissance are great additions. Lloyd Brown’s Iron City is one of the most fascinating of the African American CP novels. William J. Maxwell’s New Negro, Old Left is a fantastic study of literary Communism and the African American aesthetic tradition.

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    I think the work of Nelson Peery is essential on this topic. Here are key titles:

    Peery, N. (1975). THE NEGRO NATIONAL COLONIAL QUESTION. Chicago: Workers Press.

    Peery, N. (1993). ENTERING AN EPOCH OF SOCIAL REVOLUTION. Chicago: Workers Press.


    Hagerty, B. & Peery, N. (2000). MOVING ONWARD: FROM RACIAL DIVISION TO CLASS UNITY. Chicago: People’s Tribune.



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    I would add “World Revolution, 1917-1936” by C.L.R. James. Not to mention a bunch of other writings of his at the Marxist Internet Archive.
    Also, Jeff Perry’s “Hubert Harrison, the Voice of Harlem Radicalism, 1883-1918” and “A Hubert Harrison Reader” form key texts for understanding a key founder of the secular Black Marxist tradition.

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    Speaking of CLR James, I would include his *Notes on Dialectics.*

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    Speaking again of James, the Afro-Trinidadian “cricketing Marxist” and “urbane revolutionary,” here are a few titles that illuminate his life and work (thus in addition to titles by James):
    • Buhle, Paul. C.L.R. James: The Artist as Revolutionary. London: Verso, 1988.
    • Buhle, Paul, ed. C.L.R. James: His Life and Work. London: Allison & Busby, 1986.
    • Renton, Dave. C.L.R. James: Cricket’s Philosopher King. London: Haus, 2007.
    • Rosengarten, Frank. Urbane Revolutionary: C.L.R. James and the Struggle for a New Society. Jackson, MS: University Press of Mississippi, 2008.
    • Worcester, Kent. C.L.R. James: A Political Biography. Albany, NY: State University of New York Press, 1996.

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    Excellent list, and great suggestions!

    I’d add Gerald Horne’s Black and Red as well as his book Race Woman: The Lives of Shirley Graham Du Bois. See also: Robeson Taj Frazier, The East is Black: Cold War China in the Black Radical Imagination; Howard Eugene Johnson, A Dancer in the Revolution: Stretch Johnson, Harlem Communist at the Cotton Club; Ahmed Shawki, Black Liberation and Socialism;
    Yasuhiro Katagiri, Black Freedom, White Resistance, and Red Menace: Civil Rights and Anticommunism in the Jim Crow South; James Zeigler, Red Scare Racism and Cold War Black Radicalism; and David Beasley, A Life in Red: A Story of Forbidden Love, The Great Depression, and the Communist Fight for a Black Nation in the Deep South.

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