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The Communist Party Defended African Americans During the Civil Rights Movement

Updated on June 24, 2014

The Scottsboro Boys Trial and the Communist Party

In 1931, nine African-American boys in Scottsboro, Alabama were mistakenly accused of the rape of two white teenage girls and they became known as "The Scottsboro Boys." All but one of the boys were sentenced to death and their trials and appeals continued for several years afterwards.

The crime and subsequent trial became a Broadway play. Although there are several sites on the internet about this case, I recently discovered a document that talked about the defense of the Scottsboro Boys by the Communist Party. It is a fact of the case but little discussed.

I found it interesting that during the times when African Americans were persecuted and their Civil Rights were violated, that there was a group that went above and beyond to ensure Civil Rights, well ahead of the time. That is what this site is about.

Please enjoy this site and leave comments below. Thanks for the visit.

Creative Commons Photo Credit

The Scottsboro Boys

Click thumbnail to view full-size
Andy Wright - Age 19Charlie Weems - Age 16Clarence Norris - Age 19Eugene Williams - Age 13Haywood Patterson - Age 18Olen Montgomery - Age 17Ozie Powell - Age 16Roy Wright - Age 12Willie Roberson - Age 16
Andy Wright - Age 19
Andy Wright - Age 19
Charlie Weems - Age 16
Charlie Weems - Age 16
Clarence Norris - Age 19
Clarence Norris - Age 19
Eugene Williams - Age 13
Eugene Williams - Age 13
Haywood Patterson - Age 18
Haywood Patterson - Age 18
Olen Montgomery - Age 17
Olen Montgomery - Age 17
Ozie Powell - Age 16
Ozie Powell - Age 16
Roy Wright - Age 12
Roy Wright - Age 12
Willie Roberson - Age 16
Willie Roberson - Age 16

International Labor Defense

Defense of Anti-Lynching during the Civil Rights Era

I am a researcher and have collected many interesting documents throughout the years. A recent acquisition is shown below. It is a letter dated 1933, sent by the International Labor Defense organization to supporters of the Scottsboro Boys.

The International Labor Defense provided legal defense to many during the Civil Rights era. They stepped in when others were too afraid to and mostly defended against the Jim Crow era lynching's of the South.

This particular letter, signed by William Patterson who ran the organization, was a way for International Labor Defense to garner financial support for the Scottsboro Boys. In this letter, it talks about the plight of the nine African American boys who were unjustly accused and tried for the rape of two white girls in Scottsboro, Alabama.

In the letter, it talks about the trials and the attempted lynching of the boys. It also talks about the guilty verdicts and the subsequent appeals and outcry from the public. The defense, in this letter, is asking for financial support in the form of stamps, which can be sold and the proceeds sent back to the organization.

The appeals process and the final decisions led to the release of many of boys but some of them served shorter sentences and some met an untimely demise, after the trial.

The original public outcry in the case was made by John Gates, who is shown below. This publicity and the final decisions in the case led to more public support during the Civil Rights era for African Americans.

The Scottsboro Boys With Their Attorney, Samuel Leibowitz in 1932 - Under guard and safety of the Alabama State Militia

Scottsboro Boys with Samuel Leibowitz
Scottsboro Boys with Samuel Leibowitz

Original 1933 Letter from the National Labor Defense Organization - This letter was sent to supporters to request financial support for the Scottsboro Boys

Scottsboro Boys Letter
Scottsboro Boys Letter

The International Labor Defense had several case defenses in the south in the 1930s. Among them was Angelo Herndon who was an activist in the Communist Party who was sentenced to death for treason for his advocacy of African-Americans. Herndon believed that the lynching must stop and that all defendants, regardless of race, deserved due process.

The International Labor Defense actively defended the civil rights of African Americans and as you can see by this letter, they also sent out letters to supporters to gain financial support in their defense.

The Scottsboro Boys were arrested with no evidence of guilt and only on the word of two white girls who later retracted that they were raped. The boys were not even in the same train car as the girls. Even though the girls recanted, it still wasn't good enough for the appeals process and the acquittal of these boys took several years. Eight of the nine boys were convicted and sentenced to death.

This was a sad chapter in American History but must be retold to avoid this story from repeating itself anywhere in the World.

The Scottsboro, Alabama Courthouse with Placard Commemorating the Trial of the Scottsboro Boys

Scottsboro Alabama Courthouse
Scottsboro Alabama Courthouse

Guilty Until Proven Innocent? - The Trial of the Scottsboro Boys - 1931 -Part 1 and Part 2

1922 Events Leading to Communist Support of the Civil Rights Cause

In 1922, the Communist International (Comintern), set up a multinational Negro Commission that started uniting all movements of blacks fighting colonialism and supporting Civil Rights.

Signs of the Era

Segregation and Living in the Civil Rights Era

I lived in Ohio during the latter portion of the Civil Rights Era. Although I heard about protests and news such as the Philadelphia Riots, I was not involved in any of it.

Unless you were born or raised during this era, it is hard to believe that it even happened as it was so cruel to God's children. My first encounter with this was visiting my Grandparents in Florida in the early to middle 1960s. During a stop in either Tennessee or Georgia, I remember seeing the "White Only" signs at a drinking fountain and at a filling station bathroom. I had to ask my parents what it meant and they told me that although the signs still remained, they were not followed anymore. I later learned that they did still use the signs, even though most were outlawed.

In this website, I have included photographic evidence that these signs existed. They seem very eerie to look at and although they are only signs, they are a reminder when things were very sad in our country. Behind these signs, everyone on the community existed and almost everyone supported this segregation.

I can only imagine what it must've liked to feel like while being segregated. I can only hear the stories and try to understand, but I never really will.

As you see the signs, picture yourself during that era and try to capture the emotions that existed and how the Scottsboro Boys felt in this environment, as well as many other African Americans. This oppression was a great pressure to them and it will surely bring a tear to your eye.

Whites Only Sign
Whites Only Sign

These Are the Stamps that the International Labor Defense Letter References - You could sell these stamps and send the proceeds to the International Labor Defen

Scottsboro Boys Stamps
Scottsboro Boys Stamps

These stamps were provided for the defense of the accused and were included in the letter shown above.

The Trial of the Scottsboro Boys - Broadway Play

White Trade Only Sign
White Trade Only Sign

Early Years of Civil Rights and Communism

From about 1919 to 1922, African-Americans began joining with the Communist Party and with groups such as the "African Blood Brotherhood." These groups did not actively seek their membership but was a channel in which African-Americans could have a say in socialist issues.

The Civil Rights Era was an Interesting Part of History - Please check out the fabulous items below related to this era.

White Only Railroad Sign
White Only Railroad Sign

This deep fried dish was (and still is) very popular in the South. It was an inexpensive dish that was considered soul food.

  • Prep time: 20 min
  • Cook time: 10 min
  • Ready in: 30 min
  • Yields: 4

Ingredients

  • 1 1/2 cups okra - okra must be sliced fresh
  • 1 cup corn meal
  • 1/2 cup flour
  • 1/2 tsp salt
  • Add pepper to your particular taste
  • Use whatever deep frying oil that you normally. The original recipe calls for vegetable oil
  • Louisiana Hot Sauce - to dip okra in while eating

Instructions

  1. 1. Put sliced okra in a bowl and salt well. Let it sit for a few minutes after salting to bring out the juices.
  2. 2. In another bowl, mix the corn meal, pepper and flour. You may want to limit your pepper until you cook your first batch.
  3. 3. Coat the okra in the mixture.
  4. 4. Let the coating dry on the okra but letting it sit for about 10 minutes
  5. 5. In your skillet, cook the okra in the oil until it is lightly browned on both sides.
  6. 6. Take the okra out of the pan and dry by placing on paper towels
  7. 7. Dip the okra in Louisiana Hot Sauce for an extra zing!
Cast your vote for Soul Food Southern Fried Okra with Louisana Hot Sauce
segregation sign
segregation sign

Late 1920s Support From the Communist Party

In the late 1920's, the Communist Party started mobilization against African American persecution by organizing workers and assisted during shutoff of needed utilities, evictions of families, and employment issues. The biggest issue was to fight the lynchings and the "Jim Crow" system.

segregation sign
segregation sign

Memorial in Duluth Minnesota of 3 Young African American Men Lynched After Being Wrongly Accused in 1920

Duluth Lynching Memorial
Duluth Lynching Memorial
segregation sign
segregation sign
segregation sign
segregation sign

Policies Hampered Communist Recruitment

The support of African-Americans by the Communist Party did have its own issues. While the recruitment continued of African-Americans, it hampered recruitment of Southern white workers during several strikes in the late 1920's to early 1930's.

segregation sign
segregation sign

1930 - The League of Struggle for Negro Rights

The League of Struggle for Negro Rights was organized by the Communist Party in 1930. It was formed in organizing support for the Scottsboro boys and to fight the Jim Crow Laws. It also supported the Soviet Union.

segregation
segregation

Did You Enjoy This Website? - Please let me know what you thought

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      Teri Villars 4 years ago from Phoenix, Arizona

      @Valerie P Davis: I agree. They were persecuted for so long that it would be hard to imagine being in their shoes. Thank you for visiting.

    • Valerie P Davis profile image

      Valerie Proctor Davis 4 years ago from Birmingham, Alabama

      This is very interesting - I know that many black people joined the Communist party in the 30s, and this is some evidence why. The way their own country treated them, why should't they hope for something better?

    • profile image

      anonymous 5 years ago

      I enjoyed this lens. It is important to share these stories. We shall overcome. Great lens. God bless!

    • profile image

      anonymous 5 years ago

      Nice job on this lens. I grew up in Selma, Alabama during the shameful Jim Crow era. It is hard to believe that we are only forty to fifty years removed from a time when civil rights were denied.

    • verymary profile image

      Mary 5 years ago from Chicago area

      the history of socialism in America is fascinating, and very few people seem to know about it or care. most don't even know what socialism really is. very interesting lens! *blessed*

    • Rangoon House profile image

      AJ 5 years ago from Australia

      Included in my tribute lens - Colossal Squid Stars - so that we don't repeat the same mistakes.

    • Rangoon House profile image

      AJ 5 years ago from Australia

      "Enjoyment" is not what I felt when reading this lens. It is confronting and almost unbelievable that these events and prejudices are such fresh history.