On March 25, 1931, local authorities in Paint Rock, Alabama, arrested nine black youths on a freight train after receiving word about a fight between blacks and whites on the train. They discovered two white women (Ruby Bates and Victoria Price) dressed in men’s overalls on the same train and subsequently charged the nine young men with rape. Four of the “Scottsboro Boys,” Roy and Andy Wright, Eugene Williams, and Heywood Patterson, had grown up in Chattanooga, Tennessee; the Wrights were the sons of Ada Wright, a widow and a domestic servant in Chattanooga. Ozie Powell, Clarence Norris, Olen Montgomery, Charlie Weems, and Willie Roberson came from different towns in Georgia and encountered the others for the first time on the train. Olen Montgomery was completely blind in one eye and could barely see out of the other; Willie Roberson suffered from untreated syphilis and could hardly walk. Presiding judge Alfred E. Hawkins assigned all seven members of the Scottsboro bar to defend the young men, but all of them found excuses not to involve themselves except for seventy-year-old Milo C. Moody. In Chattanooga, sixty miles away, members of the local Interdenominational Colored Ministers’ Alliance raised funds to retain Stephen R. Roddy, a white lawyer from Chattanooga. On April 9, 1931, after four separate trials conducted over a four-day period before four different all-white juries in the mountain town of Scottsboro, eight of the defendants were found guilty as charged. Judge Hawkins promptly sentenced them to death. The case of the ninth defendant—thirteen-year-old Roy Wright—ended in a mistrial after a majority of the jury refused to accept the prosecution’s recommendation that he be spared the death penalty because of his extreme youth.
The Scottsboro case has been called one of the great defining moments of the twentieth century, providing a vocabulary and constellation of images not only for its own time but for subsequent generations as well—each of which has been compelled to reinterpret and reappropriate Scottsboro for its own purposes. The mythic power of the case did not derive from the fact of injustice alone. It depended on the way the case was publicized—and its outcomes shaped—by the campaign on behalf of the defendants organized by the international Communist movement. At the height of the campaign, workers and activists rallied in Latin America, Asia, the Middle East, and Africa, across Europe and the United States, in parts of the British Empire and its dominions, and in the farming collectives of Russia, in an unprecedented attempt to create sympathy for the victims of racial injustice—and, at the same time, to oppose imperialism and foster interracial solidarity on a global scale. Only the antislavery struggle of the nineteenth century had enjoyed such global orchestration and empathy. The fact and resonance of the campaign demand acknowledgment in their international as well as their American dimensions. Satisfying as it may be, however, to add a Scottsboro chapter to the story of global struggle against injustice, to do so in a purely recuperative or celebratory spirit would be to sidestep the complexities of interwar “racial politics” and “internationalism.”
We seek to document and reinterpret the dynamics of the international Scottsboro campaign as a central episode in the global racial politics of the 1930s. This essay contends that the case and its defense cannot be properly understood without an explicit reckoning with the involvement of the defendants’ families, in this instance represented by the figure of Mrs. Ada Wright, nor without freeing its interpretation from the confines of the North American context. The challenge to the notion of the case as solely a chapter in African-American history has methodological as well as empirical implications. Scottsboro was an episode that “intruded” on various “national” histories, and a study of its international dimensions demands that we, too, “intrude.” Our effort to reconstruct “race” as a category of language and action in the wider Euro-American context and beyond, especially in ways that acknowledge blacks as historical agents rather than simply as objects of scrutiny, thereby offers a new perspective on several national histories. Ours is an exercise in recovering a black presence in Europe before the onset of global conflict, in reconsidering the American case in the light of it, and vice versa. But here, where global racial politics also encounters “proletarian internationalism,” historians need to find new ways of seeing and accounting for individuals and movements, in terms of identities that are complex and open-ended, and sometimes contradictory. This approach is not that of the “transatlantic” or the “diasporic,” in the sense in which these terms are often currently used, nor “comparative” work in its conventional mode. It does not argue that Scottsboro transcended the boundaries of national political cultures, or managed to evade differences of spoken and read languages, for example. It does not trace the migrations back and forth of peoples of color in ways that free “race” from specific historical locations within those national cultures. It does, however, disrupt a comparison of “nations” that assumes a national identity as the sole defining identity for any historical actor. It invites a historically grounded reconsideration of the issues of “authenticity” that often bedevil both racial politics and accounts of international Communism in the twentieth century.
This essay places the pursuit of an international constituency at the heart of an investigation that crosses borders and languages, holding constant the people of the story and the episode they are involved in: whites and blacks interact and lead the narrative, which centers on the journey of Ada Wright through Europe in 1932. We suggest that there is a way to write about an international political culture in the 1930s that is different from either the “history of the communist movement” or “the history of the colonial other.” Europeanists and Americanists both need to rethink issues of “race,” not simply in terms of imperial presences and interactions but also in terms of the bedrock history of metropolitan political cultures. As a problematic, it is here to stay. The search for tools to map its contours is assisted immeasurably by the availability of newly released documents of the Communist International (Comintern) in Moscow; frequently deployed in the past decade to provide support for a renewed demonizing of the Comintern and its activists, they also afford insight into the ambiguities of a movement that captured the imagination of a generation. These and other sources have provoked our new version of this story, in which Scottsboro mother, Ada Wright, is our first emissary.
Communist Party organizers in the South closely monitored the Scottsboro case from the beginning. James Allen and Helen Marcy, editors of the Communist Party (CPUSA)’s Southern Worker, based in Chattanooga, alerted the New York office of the International Labor Defense (ILD). Marcy and Lowell Wakefield, an ILD organizer recently assigned to Chattanooga, attended the pretrial hearings. Wakefield and Douglas McKenzie, a black organizer from the League of Struggle for Negro Rights, attended the trials. Even before the verdicts were issued, they sent a telegram to Judge Hawkins and Alabama Governor B. M. Miller calling for an end to the “legal lynching” of the Scottsboro Boys and demanding that the defendants be protected from lynch mobs. On April 10, 1931, right after the verdicts, the Central Committee of the Communist Party USA published a lengthy statement on behalf of the Scottsboro Boys in the Daily Worker; on the same day, the ILD voted to defend them. In the meantime, on April 2, 1931, Dr. P. A. Stephens, secretary of the Chattanooga Ministers’ Alliance, wrote to the NAACP (National Association for the Advancement of Colored People), requesting assistance. Walter White, the NAACP secretary, responded immediately, asking for more information, but the NAACP proceeded with caution in considering its role in the case.
In the immediate aftermath of the Scottsboro verdicts, mass protests—some carefully planned and orchestrated by the Communist Party, others more spontaneous—broke out in cities across the United States and abroad. The ILD dispatched attorney Allan Taub to Chattanooga, and he and Douglas McKenzie located the families of the defendants there; they were later joined by the ILD’s chief lawyer, Joseph Brodsky, who interviewed the nine defendants in the Birmingham jail where they were being held. The ILD also secured the services of George W. Chamlee of Chattanooga, a former county attorney general and the grandson of a decorated Confederate veteran, to handle the appeal. After a series of equivocal and contradictory public statements, the NAACP officially entered the case on May 4, 1931, when Walter White visited the Scottsboro Boys in Kilby Prison, seeking to persuade them to give the NAACP control of their defense. In the context of the Communist International’s “Third Period,” of intensified class struggle and anticipation of imminent socialist revolution, the Communists cast the NAACP in the dual role of class-and-race traitor, adopting the vocabulary hitherto reserved for “reformists” and “social fascists” within the labor movement. As James S. Allen, one of the CPUSA’s key theoreticians on the “Negro Question,” proclaimed: “The main political significance of the earlier stage in the Scottsboro struggle rested in the fight between revolutionary forces led by the Communist Party and reformist forces represented by the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People. The struggle went far beyond the question of who shall carry through the legal defense of the Scottsboro boys. It was a struggle between two opposing class forces.” The conflict between the CPUSA, the ILD, and the NAACP, and the rhetoric it generated, would have a decisive impact on the conduct of the campaign in its early years.
This rapid sequence of events secured the status of the Scottsboro case as perhaps the most infamous and celebrated racial spectacle of the 1930s, a decade in which the world press regularly reported on lynchings and racial violence in America. The defendants languished in their jail cells throughout the 1930s, through two major Supreme Court rulings, through the endless and vituperative wrangling over their defense, through the dramatic recantation of one of the accusers’ original testimony, and Judge James E. Horton’s courageous decision to set aside the second conviction of Haywood Paterson and order a new trial—before the eventual release of Roy Wright, Olen Montgomery, Willie Roberson, and Eugene Williams in 1937. Charlie Weems was paroled in 1943 and Ozie Powell in 1946. Clarence Norris and Andy Wright were released in 1944; Haywood Patterson escaped from Kilby Prison in 1948. It was not until 1976, however, when Clarence Norris, the “last of the Scottsboro Boys,” was officially pardoned of parole violation and freed by Governor George Wallace of Alabama that the case could be said to have come to an end. It spanned more than four decades, and the defendants, taken together, served 130 years in prison.
This reassessment of Scottsboro is concerned primarily with the construction of the Scottsboro case by the ILD and its international sister organization, Red Aid, and addresses the role of Communist work “among Negroes” through the lens of the case. It also begins to address the involvement of American black organizations through its references to the NAACP and the NAACP’s international contacts. It is especially concerned with the various forms of “representation” of the Scottsboro Boys and the quest for racial authenticity that often motivated their use. The international campaign’s use of shared propaganda and its attempt to deploy a common translation of vernaculars (the spoken and read idioms obtaining in varied national and regional cultures) demands a method that can interpret both local and “universal” rhetorical strategies. The problems of imagery and rhetoric are not simply propagandistic or sentimental trappings of the Scottsboro campaign but keys to its vernacular meanings. The campaign defied existing parameters of racial etiquette at the same time that it paradoxically drew on and reified racial imagery drawn from the endemic features of predominantly white political cultures. This paradox posed a fundamental dilemma for the project of radical social transformation. In their attempts to navigate their shifting relationships with the wider discursive and political settings in which they had been raised, and in which they lived their everyday lives, to what extent did radical activists, in the United States, Europe, and globally, challenge the existing racial wisdom?
In the national context of the racial terror that shaped American southern life for the first half of the twentieth century, the Scottsboro case was more routine than perhaps most readers wish to recall. Nor did it occur in an organizational or political vacuum, for it coincided with the moment when the CPUSA had elevated the struggle for black liberation to a high place on its national agenda. The “Resolution on the Negro Question,” passed by the Sixth Congress of the Communist International in 1928, which proposed “the right of Negroes to national self-determination in the southern states where the Negroes form a majority of the population,” prefigured Scottsboro. This resolution, and its subsequent slogan, “The Right of Self-Determination for Negroes in the Black Belt,” signaled a new stage in the development of the Communist Party USA in its international profile. But it also introduced new problems, particularly in its equation of the condition of black communities in the United States and South Africa with national minorities in the Soviet Union; the USSR was offered up as the example of a harmonious interracial society that had solved its national minorities question. Nevertheless, the “Negro Question” was now placed at the center of the CPUSA’s work:
It is essential for the Communist Party to make an energetic beginning now—at the present moment—with the organization of joint mass struggles of white and black workers against Negro oppression. This alone will enable us to get rid of the bourgeois white chauvinism which is polluting the ranks of the white workers in America, to overcome the distrust of the Negro masses caused by the inhuman barbarous Negro slave traffic still carried on by the American bourgeoisie—in as much as it is directed even against all white workers—and to win over to our side these millions of Negroes as active fellow-fighters in the struggle for the overthrow of bourgeois power throughout America.
During the early years of the Great Depression, the party’s campaigns against white chauvinism had reached such a peak that white comrades were enjoined to recognize their own skin privilege, even as they suffered from the ravages of the economy. In 1930, party leader Earl Browder pointed to a disturbing tendency among the rank and file: “The existence of 2 million Negro workers and the further industrialization of the Negroes demand a radical change in the work of the party among the Negroes . . . White chauvinism has manifested itself even in open antagonisms of some comrades . . . In Gary, white members of the Workers Party protested against Negroes eating in the restaurant owned by the Party. In Detroit, party members, yielding to pressure, drove Negro comrades from a social given in aid of the miners’ strike.”
The party also began to follow more cases of criminal assaults on blacks, as if to police “white chauvinism” in mainstream America in anticipation of its intense involvement in the Scottsboro campaign. There were also international interventions into the American situation, partly in response to ongoing factional warfare. Comrade John Ballam, visiting Russia in 1929, made the mistake of raising some questions about the self-determination line, “revealing an attitude unworthy of a Communist.” He was accused of saying in Comintern sessions: “You fellows over here look at the question with European eyes . . . the Negro people in America have no distinctly separate language, culture, territory or traditions upon which to base a struggle for national liberation and the establishment of a separate Negro State within the borders of the USA.” Under the pressure of correspondence from back home, Ballam recanted: “I realize that the attitude toward the NEGRO QUESTION is the ACID TEST for every communist, especially in America, and with the help and guidance of the Comintern, I PLEDGE MYSELF to work to uproot EVERY VESTIGE OF WHITE CHAUVINISM in our Party, wherever it appears.” The highlight of the campaigns against white chauvinism in the United States was the elaborate, highly orchestrated, and well-publicized trial of the Finnish Communist August Yokinen, at the Harlem Casino on Sunday, March 1, 1931. Yokinen was found guilty of using racist language, by a mock jury observed by hundreds of spectators. Browder subsequently observed: “If we had not previously had the experience of the Yokinen trial, probably the Scottsboro boys would have become merely another item in the long list of Negro lynchings which disgrace America daily . . . But because the Communist Party had been politically armed and prepared, this made it possible to seize upon the Scottsboro case for a national mobilization of protest and struggle which aroused large masses throughout the country, and even throughout the world.”
In the international movement, the spirit of the CPUSA internal and public critique of white prejudice spread, often forming the groundwork for the rhetorical flourishes of the Scottsboro campaign. In England, there existed a fledgling black Left among maritime workers in the port cities, among colonial students and expatriate Caribbean, African, and Indian trade unionists and intellectuals, and in a very few indigenous black organizations, notably the Negro Welfare Association (NWA), promoted by the Communist Party of Great Britain (CPGB) and led by West Indian activist Arnold Ward and his allies, such as fellow traveler and former Colonial Office official Reginald Bridgeman. The CPGB had among its leading comrades Rajani Palme Dutt, the Indian Member of Parliament Shapurji Saklatvala, and a number of younger Indian members. Yet Saklatvala concluded that the party had utterly failed to reach most potential recruits:
In places like East London, Cardiff, Swansea, Liverpool, Glasgow, Dundee, New Castle [sic], Hull and other seaports, there is always a number of Asiatic and African seamen or hawkers employed or unemployed. There are also colonial students almost in all universities in Great Britain. There is no healthy contact between them and Party members in the various localities . . . Many things happen among the coloured seamen in the East End of London and members of the Party and of the unemployed workers’ movement, living right in the locality know nothing about it, can give me no information and have no plans of even private friendly contacts or any desire to learn of the situation. There is a tendency to treat the colonial problem as a mere side issue and as nobody’s business in particular.
The CPGB called for a battle against white chauvinism in its ranks, though without the public rituals of accusation and redemption that took place in the United States. In Britain, and in the empire in general, the 1930s witnessed new systems of labor discipline, institutionalized racial coding in employment, and a legacy of popular violence following on the 1919 race riots in the English port cities. Events in Jamaica, Trinidad, Nigeria, and Gambia warranted special party attention alongside protests of “increasing discrimination against Negroes in England.” But plans to carry out this agenda rarely met with success. The South African Party, in many respects a stepchild of the CPGB, was riven by charges of white chauvinism and a condescending attitude toward Native political movements. Activism among CPGB youth and within the circles of intellectuals who supported forms of anti-imperialism was nevertheless influenced in the 1930s by the presence of Trinidadian George Padmore, by Palme Dutt’s deep editorial preoccupations with imperial questions in the CPGB theoretical organ, Labour Monthly, and by the fleeting contacts with black and Indian radicals like those around Bronislaw Malinowski at the London School of Economics, including Eric Williams, Jomo Kenyatta, and Ralph Bunche.
Padmore provided a crucial link between Anglo-American black radicalism, the Comintern, and the anti-imperialist and anti-racist movement on the European continent. He also had individual connections with non-party black intellectuals, like his boyhood friend, C. L. R. James. He and the German activist Willi Münzenberg were the early Scottsboro campaign’s most important international agents. Their lives and travels crisscrossed with Ada Wright’s, and, like hers, their roles had a direct influence on the kinds of support the campaign received, the hostility it encountered, the terms in which it was depicted, and even the inhibitions that some potential supporters felt. Central to this influence was the new emphasis on race in Comintern policy that was institutionalized in the International Trade Union Committee of Negro Workers (ITUCNW), briefly directed from early 1931 by Padmore in Hamburg, German Communist leader Ernst Thälmann’s stronghold and the center of a black presence in the maritime shipping industry of Europe. From there, its English-language journal The Negro Worker was carried to readers in Europe, Africa, and the Americas by seamen and students, trade unionists and intellectual smugglers. Hamburg was also the center for the activities of the Comintern-sponsored International Union of Seamen and Harborworkers, which presented itself as an alternative to majority trade-union reformism and as a focus for the collective self-assertion of a labor force that was by its nature global, international, and multiracial.
The ITUCNW was able to draw on the experience and personnel of an older organization, the League Against Imperialism (LAI), formed in 1927 under the leadership of Münzenberg. With its headquarters in Berlin, the league developed as a classic front organization, sustaining sympathy for the Communist movement by building on liberal and humanitarian opposition to colonial oppression and attempting to organize and agitate in the colonies themselves. Initially successful in attracting some leading names to its letterhead (including many who would figure in the Scottsboro campaign), the league was systematically boycotted by the Socialist Second International; the LAI leadership admitted by 1930 that it had failed either to consolidate its support among intellectuals or to develop significant popular momentum. It continued, however, to organize propaganda and agitation around colonial struggles, insistently bringing conflicts in the British and Dutch colonies to the attention of urban audiences in Germany. In Berlin, the LAI’s ambit encompassed, among other international figures such as the American radical Agnes Smedley (whose Indian partner, Virendranath Chattopadhyaya, was a co-worker of Münzenberg), a circle of Indian students, a loose collection of pan-Islamist activists, and a handful of Afro-Germans. Chattopadhyaya’s German ties were forged in the Indian nationalist movement’s murky relations with Germany at the outset of the Great War; he and others had drifted toward the LAI and Communist circles during the 1920s. The Afro-Germans were in turn linked to networks of people of African descent who were resident in Germany.
Organizations with a more familiar profile and a wider brief than the ITUCNW or the LAI began to incorporate the anti-racist message into their anticolonialist rhetoric, and to popularize images of Negro life in America. Chief among these was the International Red Aid (also known by its Russian initials MOPR), an affiliate of the American and British ILD branches, the most successful of the Comintern mass organizations on the Continent, because it concentrated on work that was essentially humanitarian: collecting money to pay for soup kitchens for the families of striking workers, offering legal aid to victims of political justice, organizing peoples’ tribunals to investigate miscarriages of justice or notorious cases of police brutality. In Britain, the ILD’s predecessor had claimed thousands of members in the late 1920s and raised substantial funds for its Class-war Prisoners Campaign. When the secretariat of the International Red Aid formally confirmed in 1930 that it was adopting the fight against the persecution of the toiling Negro masses, it was with a characteristic emphasis on suffering as a focus for mobilization: “The Negro masses are beginning to awaken. In America they fight shoulder to shoulder with white workers in strikes and political demonstrations. In the black Colonies the revolutionary wave is rising ever higher and growing ever more intense . . . In East, West and South Africa the blood of the Negro masses has flowed in rivers . . . In the United States 36 horrific lynchings were carried out on Negroes in the first nine months of 1930.” German Red Aid invoked images of racial harmony in its mobilization for the International Jamboree of Worker and Peasant Children in Berlin; it published photographs of lynching scenes juxtaposed with those of European victims of police repression, suggesting links between the interracial labor struggles of American workers and the concerns of German workers. Workers from the strike at Gastonia, North Carolina, visited a home set up by the German Red Aid for the children of political prisoners and victims of police terror, and their story was told in press reports and slide shows.
By the time Scottsboro broke, the networks and the individuals whose business it was to represent racial politics in Europe were in place, as were the components of a common discourse, in which different empires and different black territories and communities were portrayed as possessing a common element of racial violence and the usurpation of liberties. Yet, however insistently some Communists looked to develop the political potential of a black or colonial presence in key European cities, “Negro work” was hard going, treading on boundaries of etiquette and intruding on local cultures. In the seamen’s bars of Hamburg, racial animosities could make themselves felt. When African-American CPUSA leader James Ford arrived in Germany to take over some work for Padmore, he was aghast at the party’s treatment of the “colonial work,” writing to say that there was little money extended for it by the German Party comrades there: “And, finally, we never get anything properly done until we break down the bourgeois inference that Negroes, Chinese and Indians are nothing but niggers’ coolies and one must confess that this is a general impression.”
Padmore’s description of the 1930 conference of Negro workers at Hamburg was typical: some of the African delegates became so desperate that they threatened to go to the police for food and assistance. A comrade referred to the conference as the “Negro Drama.” It was, Padmore wrote, “conducted poorly and with unsatisfactory representation . . . [and featured] the refusal of visas, lack of civil rights, arrest of delegates from Panama, losing of delegates from South Africa by what methods we do not as yet know, the banning of the conference by the British Labor Government, the Jim Crow practices on steamships resulting in [the] late arrival of the American delegation, the backward[ness] and isolation of the Negro organizations from the International Labor movement.” “Racial progress,” even within the Communist movement, was limited by prejudice and other preoccupations; this would affect the shape and efficacy of the Scottsboro campaign. The presence of blacks in the campaign, and of Ada Wright in particular, would offer an implicit challenge to the habituated behaviors of the white-dominated Communist Party formations and front groups.
Press and propaganda campaigns were not enough to sustain anticolonial and anti-imperial gestures in Europe; survey after survey showed that even activists hardly ever read the carefully composed journals of the mass organizations. What could close many of these gaps was a campaign that honored victimized black workers, exposed American capitalism and its courts to view, and united white workers around a plausible and supportable black cause that mirrored descriptions of the sharecropper/landlord/bossist South—a struggle that could simultaneously address white chauvinism and labor, and Negro “fakers” and “reformists” in the spirit of the drive against social fascism. In this post–World War I era, in which Europe was experiencing a heightened “Americanization,” ranging from the adoption of industrial management techniques to the ubiquity of Hollywood imagery, the negative racial reputation of the South was a ready draw. Robert Minor, the white point man for many aspects of the CPUSA’s “Negro Work,” was on the lookout for such an issue. He searched for a case, in one instance proposing that an incident he had just heard about “could be Sacco and Vanzettized to the ends of the earth.” He reasoned: “We should absolutely not forget the Negro race angle . . . the remarks of Rep. Green of Florida who wants to deport all the Negroes with the ‘REDS’: Surely, this is an opportunity.” Minor succinctly stated the party’s regional task as that of “making the South a part of the main territory of the Party, not as a sort of outlying missionary territory, as the Catholic Church would express it.” The CPUSA sent white and black comrades into the South to build organizations in targeted areas, especially in Kentucky, Tennessee, and northern Alabama. When the Scottsboro case broke, the region that was led from a base in Chattanooga was already witnessing a miners’ strike in Harlan County, Kentucky.
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Southern regional organizer Tom Johnson immediately ordered Mary Dalton and other Chattanooga comrades to seek out the defendants’ families. But black southerners constituted only one dimension of the party’s national concerns; perceptions in New York and Chattanooga could diverge. In fact, Johnson protested to the Politburo that “the great publicity of the whole trial and of the proported [sic] confessions has created an idea in the minds of even many Negro workers that at least some of them [the accused] may be involved in the alledged [sic] crime [but] certainly the trial was a framed up lynch law trial.” He sent white Alabamian contacts to check the stories, until he was satisfied that the defendants were indeed innocent. When the ill-fated freight train riders set out on their journey into the Alabama night on March 25, 1931, they could not have known of all those who waited for them—not just their accusers were poised but their defenders as well. Once the decision was made to provide the Scottsboro Boys with basic assistance over the coming years, the party, through the means of the ILD and International Red Aid outside the United States, plunged the defendants and their families into the world of proletarian internationalism.
With the defendants’ execution set for July 10, 1931, Berlin transport workers sent the first telegram from Europe on April 24; the Red Aid executive issued the first international appeal from Moscow in May. During the summer, as more European letters and telegrams reached the Alabama authorities and the White House, demonstrators broke windows at the U.S. diplomatic and trade delegations in Berlin, Bremen, Dresden, Leipzig, and Cologne. A global wave of protests ensued, “reaching from California to Sydney, from Montreal to Cape Horn, from Shanghai to Buenos Aires,” which Red Aid, the ILD, and many American observers credited with pressuring the Alabama Supreme Court to agree to hear the defendants’ appeal. Ada Wright herself was known to have said for years thereafter, even until her death, that it was the Russians who had saved her sons. In the USSR, a collective farm established “Brigade Eight” to honor eight of the defendants: “To the eight Negroes of Scottsboro—’Dear comrades, we, workers of the West Siberian Regional Counsel [sic] of People’s Economy, are all greatly indignified [sic] by the intention of the American bourgeois court to carry out your death sentence on April 6th . . . We know perfectly well that your only fault is your Negro origin and your being unemployed workers. Comrades, don’t lose courage. The end of capitalism is rapidly approaching.'”
When the verdicts were confirmed by the court in March 1932, with the executions set for May 13, the ILD sent Ada Wright, then in her thirties, on a speaking tour of Europe; born in rural Tennessee, Wright had never traveled outside the South until the case broke. Accompanied by Louis Engdahl, general secretary of the ILD, Wright disembarked at Hamburg on May 7. Their tour was wide-ranging and adventurous, made strenuous by the fact that once they arrived in Europe the American visitors were dependent on the willingness of governments to grant them visas and the goodwill of the local authorities once they had crossed a border. In Germany, the Foreign Office alerted the regional authorities to the campaign; at the prompting of the Interior Ministry, the police in most major German cities barred Ada Wright from speaking under the same public-order regulations that harried radical activists. She often stood outside a hall for as long as three hours, while Engdahl and German supporters spoke on her behalf: “She burst into tears. It was heartbreaking to witness the desperation of the mother whom they want to deny the right to risk all to save her sons from the electric chair.” Engdahl was nevertheless convinced of the campaign’s success in Germany: “The total result . . . has been to set all Germany thinking about the Scottsboro case to the extent that on trains, in streetcars, and even on the public highways, the Negro mother, her likeness being made familiar by pictures and publicized everywhere, was continuously asked by those interested, ‘What can we do to help?'”
Wright visited Austria, Switzerland, and Paris. She and Engdahl sneaked over the French border into Belgium. They were greeted in Brussels by a large crowd of demonstrators and expelled; only Engdahl was allowed to return. After a visit to the Netherlands and a second trip to Paris, the tour shifted to Britain, where Engdahl was denied entry. Wright arrived in London in June 1932, and was met by Shapurji Saklatvala, Bob Lovell, head of the British ILD, and “a large number of white and colored workers.” She looked forward to working in the United Kingdom without an interpreter. After three stays of execution, the U.S. Supreme Court was scheduled to review the case in four months’ time, a reprieve that Wright attributed in her speeches to the international and American campaigns. She spoke in London, Manchester, Dundee, Kirkaldy, Glasgow, and Bristol, along with ILD organizers. Prime Minister Eamon De Valera prohibited Wright from entering Ireland. She traveled instead to Scandinavia, where 10,000 people reportedly demonstrated in Copenhagen alone. Wright and Engdahl again crossed the Belgian border illegally to visit the coal district of Wallonia in late August 1932. She addressed audiences of women in Charleroi and in Gilly, the heart of the “moving and often murderous arena” of the Borinage. When she was arrested in Charleroi, a crowd of mothers with babes in arms accompanied her to the police station. She was again arrested in Kladno, Czechoslovakia, on suspicion of spreading Communist propaganda with the intent to interfere in local politics: “I answered that I don’t know anything about local conditions in Kladno, that I’m not trained enough to give a political speech and I don’t know enough about Communism yet to be a good Communist.” She spent three nights in a cell before she and Engdahl were expelled.
At the end of 1932, Engdahl wrote: “In spite of all obstacles, sixteen countries were traversed in six months. Nearly half a million people took part in almost 200 meetings and demonstrations, while the press campaign made itself felt in hundreds of millions of copies of the daily press and journals of all political tendencies.” He and Ada Wright ended their tour in Moscow, at the World Congress celebrating the tenth anniversary of International Red Aid. In Red Square, tens of thousands of Russian workers crowded the streets with banners, calling for freedom for the sons of Ada Wright and the collapse of the world imperial order. But both travelers arrived exhausted. Wright had stomach surgery and could not appear on the platform. Louis Engdahl collapsed on the third day of the congress and died of pneumonia. Ada Wright carried his ashes back to his family in the United States, where the New York police used tear gas and clubs to break up the demonstrations called to greet her in Harlem. She spent several more years campaigning in America and eventually returned to her job with an Irish-American family in Chattanooga, making regular visits to Andy in the Alabama jail.
“If we are to believe the majority of writers of Negro dialect and the burnt-cork artists, Negro speech is a weird thing, full of ‘ams’ and ‘Ises.’ Fortunately, we don’t have to believe them. We may go directly to the Negro and let him speak for himself . . . nowhere can be found the Negro who asks ‘am it?’ nor yet his brother who announces ‘Ise uh gwinter.’ He exists only for a certain type of writer and performer.”
“Boys” they were at the beginning of the campaign, “boys” they were forty-five years later when Clarence Norris was finally pardoned, even though, at the time of their arrests, they ranged in age from thirteen to twenty. This appellation, adopted internationally in various translated forms, served a dual function and significantly shaped the discourse that emerged around them. It invoked the racist southern slang term for black men of any age, reinforcing the image of the South as a region where Jim Crow practices kept black men permanently infantilized, locked into a fixed subordinate status in the racial caste system. But the term also conferred both the presumption of innocence (including sexual innocence) and victim status upon the defendants; it partially separated them from the widespread racial mythology of black men as savages with irresistible sex drives, as instinctive rapists with an insatiable desire for white women. In the final analysis, the success of the Scottsboro campaign would depend on the extent to which it could portray them as casualties of southern justice.
From the very beginning, the rhetoric surrounding the case pitted the youthful innocence of the Scottsboro Boys against the savage menace of southern life. Helen Marcy wrote of the “nine young Negro boys” as “terrified youngsters,” and—equally important—as “starving and wretched Negro workers.” The Daily Worker characterized them as “nine young Negro workers.” This vocabulary remained consistent throughout the 1930s, and the discourse of the national black press and the mainstream media often replicated it. The image of the Scottsboro Boys was carefully crafted by Communist Party strategists, slogan writers, and orators. Consider the following:
i Wont you all to Rite to Me and tell Me how is things Going on a bout this Case of us 9 Boys Bee Cause i am in here For SomethinG i know i did not do . . . i Was on My Way to Memphis on a oil tank By My Self a lone and i Was Not Worred With any one untell i Got to Paint Rock alabama and they Just Made a Frame up on uS Boys Just Cause they Cud . . . Oh, to think of what I am charged with. If there is a god as they say he knows I am not guilty of such hideous crime . . . You know I pray every night of my life. Maybe he knows that I know nothing of that crime . . . To think there is people so unjust that they put things on people they don’t know anything about. Well, nevertheless the good lord don’t like ugly things so I’ll trust in him for those that try to punish me for a deed I didn’t commit.
These excerpts from letters evidently written by Olen Montgomery and Roy Wright stand in noticeable contrast to the appeal issued in the name of the Scottsboro defendants in the May 1932 issue of The Negro Worker:
From the death cell here in Kilby Prison, eight of us Scottsboro boys is writing this to you. We have been sentenced to die for something we ain’t never done. Us poor boys been sentenced to burn up on the electric chair for the reason we is workers—and the color of our skin is black. We like any one of you workers is none of us older than 20. Two of us is 14 and one is 13 years old . . . What we guilty of? Nothing but being out of a job. Nothing but looking for work. Our kinfolk was starving for food. we wanted to help them out. So we hopped a freight—just like any one of you workers might a done—to go down to Mobile to hunt work. We was taken off the train by a mob and framed up on rape charges . . . Only ones helped us down here been the International Labor Defense and the League of Struggle for Negro Rights. We don’t put no faith in the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People. They give some of us boys eats to go against the other boys who talked for the I.L.D. But we wouldn’t split. Nohow. We know our friends and our enemies. Working class boys, we asks you to save us from being burnt on the electric chair. We’s only poor working class boys whose skin is black. We shouldn’t die for that. We hear about working people holding meetings for us all over the world. We asks for more big meetings. It’ll take a lot of big meetings to help the I.L.D. and the L.S.N.R. to save us from the bossman down here. Help us boys. We ain’t done nothing wrong. We are only workers like you are. Only our skin is black.
The Scottsboro Boys were illiterate or barely literate. Ozie Powell had three months of schooling. Clarence Norris completed the second grade, Heywood Patterson the third, Olen Montgomery and Charlie Weems the fifth, and Andy Wright the sixth. Any attempt to render their voices and their outlook required considerable tactical and rhetorical sensitivity. The various voices within which the defendants, and subsequently, their mothers, spoke—or were spoken for—reflected attempts to convey black vernacular speech through written dialect, some, to be sure, more accurate and authentic-sounding than others. These attempts to render black “authenticity” go to the heart of the strategic and rhetorical decisions that shaped the Scottsboro campaign. They were highly charged, carrying with them the possibilities of the international, multilingual replication of deeply entrenched racial stereotypes derived from the legacy of minstrelsy in American culture. To appropriate Scottsboro was to lurch into the mainstream of American southern experience and to link the defendants’ plight to the economic hardships and racial discontent of northern black communities. It was to join the outcry against lynching and racial injustice with the sentiments of Jews and Gentiles, liberals and radicals, domestics and dockworkers, meatpackers and lawyers. It was, above all, to try to find a language that would forge solidarity among these various audiences. Making the case comprehensible to a global audience meant making the plight of the defendants a part of the vocabulary of social injustice and police terror in a multiplicity of accents and relying on the existing reputation of the South abroad.
There was considerable initial behind-the-scenes discussion in the CPUSA about the terms within which the campaign would be presented, some of it shaped by concern about the racial and gender dynamics of the legal charges against the Scottsboro defendants. One week after the first trials, Clarence Hathaway, on behalf of the Politburo, wired a number of slogans to Tom Johnson, who opposed their call to “DEMAND NEW TRIAL BEFORE JURY COMPOSED OF WORKERS AT LEAST HALF TO BE NEGROES,” arguing that this was a meaningless plea in Tennessee; instead, he proposed the slogan “DEMAND A NEW TRIAL BEFORE A NEGRO JURY.” As for the “10,000 [whites] who shouted for blood,” Johnson observed, “These were not bosses, they were all misled, half-starved white mountaineers and croppers.” The bosses and landlords were not concerned about the virtue of white women; the party should want to stress the long hours inflicted on white and black women in the textile mills while “croppers and their families are left to starve.” But two weeks after their conviction, it was the defendants who were cast as victimized black workers: “They are typical honest and innocent hardworking lads of tender age and absolutely not of the hardened sort that could possibly be conceived to have committed the crime of violent attack upon women . . . These boys . . . are too simple and direct, as well as too young to be able to dissimulate under the pressure of a case of this kind.”
The allusions to gender and the sexual in the rhetoric of the campaign, in what was, after all, a rape trial, betray the preoccupations of party strategists. They reveal Communist inexperience, naïveté, discomfort, and ambivalence about interracial mixing. Typically, a district party leader responded sharply to a press photo in which a white female comrade was portrayed standing with a black comrade, referring to the “cheap sex publicity on the part of the Negro comrade. Such a picture appearing in the capitalist newspapers will drive away millions of American workers from the Party.” During the Gastonia strike, bosses or their agents distributed an anti–Communist Party leaflet that asked, “would you want your sister to marry a Negro?” There was extensive discussion about not replying to the leaflet, as this might compromise the party in relationship to its white southern worker constituency. On the surface, a national and increasing global awareness of lynching created space for a critique of the prevailing race and gender coding in American culture, particularly with regard to anxieties about interracial sex. As Roger N. Baldwin of the Scottsboro Defense Committee would put it in 1937: “whatever the evidence, no Negro can be acquitted when a white woman, even of the lowest character, accuses him . . . [S]o deep-rooted is southern prejudice, in favor of the word of any white woman, whatever her character, that no defense can overcome it.” In practice, though, the rhetoric adopted for the Scottsboro campaign tacitly accepted that attacking white womanhood was bad; it simply argued that the Scottsboro Boys “did not do it.” At best, it made white women complicitous in the oppression of black men, and this judgment was eased by the identification of Ruby Bates and Victoria Price as prostitutes; if any white women were worth defending, these two were certainly not among them: “Two notorious prostitutes were the only witnesses against them, but the slave driving landlords of the South forced through the death sentence to terrorize the Negro masses into accepting still lower wages and worse conditions.” The option of defending Ruby Bates and Victoria Price as unemployed textile workers was there from the outset and not taken up, until Bates recanted her testimony in January 1933, whereupon she was finally embraced as a “worker.”
The Scottsboro campaign depended as much on the distinction between rape and prostitution as it did on the issue of innocent black youngsters being framed. And this strategy was clearly reassuring to many of the campaign’s supporters across the globe: it appealed to what was confidently conveyed as an implicit Euro-American consensus on the impossibility of “rape” in the context of proven prostitution and a shared intercultural “fact” that could blunt and transcend a “purely racial” interpretation of the case. A typical British trade union motion emphatically protested against such brutal and unjust treatment and explained, “the very fact that the two white girls were prostitutes proves the whole case to be unfounded.” Alfons Goldschmidt, chairman of the German Scottsboro defense committee, was one of very few for whom the guilt of the girls was not a necessary correlate to the innocence of the boys: “These children have been accused of raping two prostitutes. But that isn’t true, and even if it were true, and even if they weren’t prostitutes, where is the human justice that would sink to such dreadful cruelty?”
The campaign orchestrated elaborate and multi-tiered roles for women, following a convention of using the mothers of political prisoners in their sons’ campaigns. In the United States, there were tours with Mother Mooney, mother of imprisoned anarchist Tom Mooney; the Scottsboro mothers’ tours (including, after her recantation in 1933, the reformed Ruby Bates); and the children’s tours, including Lucille Wright, Ada’s daughter. But the mothers were the key and provided a universal motif. A party leader recalled: “we knew we had in our hands a weapon with which we could break down the illusions of the white liberals and petty bourgeois reformist Negroes by utilizing these mothers to help build this mass movement.” Like the architects of the antislavery movement, party strategists were wed to certain notions of African-American authenticity; they needed the actual physical presence of black people and, ideally, vernacular black voices to showcase their political claims. While Ada Wright’s vernacular speech underscored her southern, rural roots, it also left her vulnerable in some quarters to accusations of ignorance. In a comment on her arrest in Belgium, Alabama’s Birmingham Post remarked with characteristic venom, but not without percipience, of the nature of the international campaign: “Ada Wright does not and cannot represent any issue of human rights. She has no real knowledge of the guilt or innocence of her boy. She knows little of the meaning of legal rights or of the Communist doctrine of her sponsors. Her sole qualification is that she speaks strange racial dialect which permits of whatever translation a designing interpreter may wish to give.”
Wright and her supporters adopted an equally modest attitude toward the degree of her political sophistication, but this was to prove a special allure of the campaign. In Providence, Rhode Island, at a gathering at an African Methodist Episcopal (AME) church, a promise was made to the people: “Mother Wright will tell you in simple words a story that will touch your heart and win your support if you are a fair play human.” In Berlin, a German protester wrote: “The mother of one of the Negro lads was here in Germany and told us about the way the Negro lads are suffering in the death cell. A mother who is suffering herself is traveling the world to save her child—that should make us think!” French Scottsboro material recalled “a mama mad with grief and yet calm . . . She had only to leaf through the memories of a black mother who had lived in the poor districts where Negroes live in the United States.” London’s Daily Worker described Mrs. Wright as “a toil-worn woman from far away Tennessee, who had undertaken this long journey of suffering in order to save the lives of her sons . . . she spoke quietly in the soft, pleasant drawl of the South. The audience strained to catch every word. Intense interest and sympathy was written on every face and tears welled into many eyes. The Negro mother told her story as only a mother can. Just a simple story of life at home, the departure of the boys in search of work and then—prison, the menace of the electric chair.” Tellingly, Wright added a plea for support in the rhetoric of the Third (Communist) International; her boys, she said, were linked to “class war prisoners all over the world.” She, too, referred to Bates and Price as prostitutes, and stated that her sons had been threatened and told that, if they confessed, the death penalty would be dropped. The narrative she offered was both chilling and melodramatic. She spoke of her mother, the daughter of a slave, who had worked in the fields for a quarter a day. Her grandmother had been sold for three hundred dollars and lashed with a whip on the auction block. In Scotland, “Cries of indignation rent the air as she told in simple, poignant language of the brutal savagery of the drunken, lynching mob outside the Court House, demanding death for the boys . . . The Dundee workers will not quickly forget the visit which has forged new bonds of unity between British workers and their colored comrades.” The appeal to mothers underlined the emphasis on the youth of the Scottsboro Boys, and hence their presumptive innocence. “Stop the Lynching of Nine Negro Boys,” demanded the Silvertown and Woolwich Cooperative; “Eight Negro Children to the Electric Chair,” declaimed a German Red Aid booklet; “American lynch-law is thirsting for the blood of nine innocent working-class boys,” explained the Dutch Red Aid. The German campaign allotted special responsibility to the youth and children’s (Pioneer) sections of Red Aid who wrote letters to the defendants, entire schools giving their support.
Scottsboro began as a Comintern campaign, but it did not end there. Its multiple purposes and the multiple associations that were deliberately invoked to reinforce sympathy with the defendants’ case allowed the campaign to exceed the intentions of its originators and to generalize the antagonisms between Communism and reformism. The Communist Party’s pervasive demonization of the NAACP went far beyond American borders. A group of “American Negro Cotton Specialists,” sent by the CPUSA to work in Tashkent, wrote: “We condemn the role played by the leaders of the NAACP in the Scottsboro case . . . The Negro reformists are the most dangerous element of the Negro masses . . . We look upon this condemnation as a legal lynching and as a concession to white chauvinism.” NAACP Field Secretary William Pickens summed up the NAACP’s public response with this dyspeptic comment: “Throwing brickbats at an American in Dresden, Germany, won’t do anything for a black boy in an Alabama jail except to hang him.” The NAACP shadowed the campaign through an active mobilization of its own networks and contacts in the United States and abroad; during 1932, Pickens traveled through Europe explaining the NAACP’s perspective on the case.
In Europe, the groundswell of popular support crossing both class and organizational divides also transformed the character of the campaign in ways that its originators had not foreseen. In the Netherlands, Ada Wright broadcast her message from a Social Democratic radio station. In Belgium, the former president of the Second Socialist International, Emile Vandervelde, joined her on the platform. Communists complained that the Social Democrats were stealing their thunder in Sweden. In France, the campaign was substantially snatched from the hands of the Communists by a broad-based coalition, spearheaded by French friends of the NAACP, in which Socialists and liberal intellectuals, including Léon Blum, played prominent roles.
The British Labour Party forbid its members from involvement in official Communist work, but Labour supporters were found in every ostensibly popular body associated with the campaign; George Lansbury offered support to the campaign, and Wright visited with Labour Members of Parliament at the House of Commons. Two hundred signed the resolution of the Barry Colonial Social Club in Cardiff, where Saklatvala addressed a meeting of “Negro Indian, Spanish and British workers.” The Amalgamated Engineering Union contributed generously to campaign funds. The London Scottsboro Defense Committee in various incarnations included Kenyatta, Vera Brittain, Naomi Mitchison, Eleanor Rathbone, and Julian Huxley, and was later led by the energetic Nancy Cunard, estranged daughter of the shipping magnate. Three hundred students and faculty at the London School of Economics—including Harold Laski, R. M. Tawney, and Eileen Power—sent a petition to the U.S. ambassador.
In Germany, the Communist movement maintained its hegemony over the campaign. No other major party or political organization was publicly committed to the cause; the Social Democratic and trade-union press all but ignored the case. Yet a German “Committee to Rescue the Scottsboro Victims” was formed in 1931. It indisputably carried out its work under the aegis of the Communist movement while operating in a distinct political-cultural milieu that overlapped with the network of Communist organizations and tapped a still-wider reservoir of sympathy and interest. This committee represented an authentic political impulse outside the leading parties, which appeared in campaigns concerning humanitarian or civil rights issues throughout the years of the Weimar Republic, even as it was systematically blocked in the political sphere. That this impulse was not confined to a metropolitan circle of “fellow-traveling” intellectuals is reflected in the wide range of locations and social types represented by the signatories to the committee’s protests. In 1932, Alfons Goldschmidt cited 1,500 letters of support whose signatories included men and women lawyers, civil servants, physicians, professors, teachers, and professionals from German cities of every size. A Leipzig protest letter initiated by children included men and women signatories who were artists, housewives, pensioners, white-collar, skilled, and manual workers. The German protests that flooded the American authorities were too numerous to deny their sincerity and spontaneity.
Nor was the impulse to unite around Scottsboro limited to either active Communists or to those articulate members of German society who could see themselves as standing above politics. On a visit to Germany in 1932, William Pickens received a sympathetic hearing from the Committee to Rescue Mooney and Billings, which was independent of the Communists’ own campaign. An alliance of groups located between the German Social Democratic Party (SPD) and the German Communist Party (KPD), it included the principal socialist, communist, and syndicalist splinter parties as well as student, sporting, and cultural organizations. They wrote to the New York ILD office: “the task of proletarian solidarity must not be held back by party political and tactical differences . . . In the whole capitalist world white and colored people are being thrown into prison, executed or lynched by the tools of the bourgeoisie. The victims belong to all different political groupings. Just as we are trying to bring about a united front of all sympathizers . . . , you too must give up your narrow partisan attitude.”
From the start, the Scottsboro campaign was linked rhetorically and organizationally with other Communist campaigns in the United States, such as that of Angelo Herndon, a black Communist Party militant arrested in Atlanta in 1932 and charged with subversion. By Ada Wright’s very presence in Europe, the agony of black America—her personal agony—was brought into dialogue with that of ordinary people all over a continent torn by economic and political crisis. This largely explains the choice of her tour’s venues. In the national and regional capitals, a cosmopolitan audience awaited her. At the meetings and conferences of Comintern-sponsored organizations, her presence signaled the essential unity of the multiple causes championed by the international movement. In May 1932, Ada Wright addressed the Congress of the International Union of Seamen and Harborworkers in Hamburg, which passed a resolution calling for a Scottsboro committee on every ship and in every port, and she appeared on the podium at the Anti-War Congress in Amsterdam. In the Belgian Borinage, an unofficial miners’ strike supported by the Communists had recently widened into a general strike provoking extreme police repression and a national solidarity campaign. Similar conditions prevailed in the English and Scottish industrial towns that she visited, as well as in Kladno, Czechoslovakia, and the Scandinavian coastal settlements where she spoke.
The first protest meetings in Berlin promised that a veteran of the Bavarian Soviet Republic brutally suppressed in 1919 would join a “Negro worker” on the platform, an early signal of the strategy of linking local and remote struggles in Germany. In the overheated crisis atmosphere that was developing in Germany in 1931 and 1932, Berliners attending public enquiries about the shooting of two policemen in the city center and the repressive measures it had precipitated far outnumbered those buying tickets for Scottsboro meetings. In early 1932, a new public-order decree threatened four youths on trial for killing a Nazi in Essen with the death penalty; it was not always easy for readers to distinguish which young workers the Communist press headlines were urging them to rescue from the executioner. Yet the foregrounding of police repression or systemic injustice, rather than Nazism, as the local point of reference for Scottsboro was characteristic of the campaign in Germany as elsewhere, in spite of the fact that the German Communists’ most alarming adversary in the political arena was openly racist. The possibility of an analogy between Nazi anti-Semitism and American racism was largely ignored (Padmore’s Negro Worker excepted), not only in campaign rhetoric but also in individual statements about Scottsboro, although it seems likely that the heightened visibility and respectability of anti-Semitism in public and institutional life that coincided with the Nazis’ political success made people who were already committed to human rights issues receptive to the Scottsboro message.
Ada Wright’s tour placed her personally at the center of other “workers’ struggles”: in Berlin, had she been allowed on the platform, she would have shared it with the wife of a Communist murdered in a Nazi ambush the previous June, who greeted the meeting in the name of the wives of proletarian prisoners. While Mrs. Wright waited outside, the meeting descended into disorder and was broken up by the police when the last speaker, Erich Mühsam, denounced the Berlin police chief as an ally of the American murderers. In Manchester, Ada Wright was introduced on the platform to Mrs. Knight, a founding member of the CPGB, and the mother of Lester Hutchinson, one of the prisoners still in jail in Meerut, India, awaiting trial for treason. In London, Mrs. Wright’s send-off rally at the Shoreditch town hall followed a march that boasted Tom Mann. Communist Party leader Harry Pollitt emphasized the link with youth unemployment in the United Kingdom, stating that part of Mrs. Wright’s story could be told by thousands of mothers in the shipbuilding, textile, and mining centers of Britain. He alluded to press attempts to foment anti-Americanism in its coverage of the case, but he reserved his own hatred expressly for the American imperialists and especially for the British imperialists’ savagery in South Africa and Nigeria.
The internationalist, humanitarian vision of a world of connected causes and struggles was not simply that of proletarian internationalism. The Scottsboro campaign appealed to those who saw a principled global struggle for human rights as their metier. In North America, Scottsboro was understood in the context of anti–Jim Crow and anti-lynching mobilizations. These campaigns reflected an indigenous history of race relations going back to slavery and its abolition. In Europe, too, nineteenth-century campaigns against slavery and lynching had reached and moved audiences across class boundaries. The allure of the campaign lay in the presence of people who, in flesh and blood, were direct descendants of American slaves, who seemed to speak as if their cultural connection was unbroken, whose physiques bore marks of manual labor, of service. Goldschmidt published extracts from letters received by the committee in a 1932 pamphlet that depicted Roy Wright behind bars on its cover: “Man is man, whether black, yellow or white, at least in my eyes. Hasn’t the white race committed serious crimes, especially against the Negroes? Weren’t they enslaved? Wasn’t it Christians, preaching a merciful God, that ripped children and parents, or husband and wife apart and sold them?” In London, Lady Kathleen Simon, secretary of the Anti-Slavery and Aborigines Protection Society, who had lived in the American South as a child, was scandalized by Jim Crow and maintained ties with NAACP and anti-lynching circles in the United States. In 1934, she and her husband, Foreign Secretary John Simon, celebrated the “William Wilberforce centenary” of the act abolishing slavery in the empire by worshiping at St. Paul’s Cathedral with thousands of others, reliving the moments when the great bells rang. Some of London’s black residents joined them, and took the parts of their ostensible forebears who had screamed hallelujah a century before. The Scottsboro defendants, in such a context, were “slaves who needed to be freed.”
The plight of black Americans was insistently linked to anticolonialism in the campaign for the defense of the victims of European empires. The American case was made synonymous on occasion with the racial violence of empire, in sharp contrast to the depiction of American blacks as entertainers and musicians, or even as cotton pickers. Meerut conspiracy trial propaganda linked Scottsboro and China with India in a “common struggle for colonial liberation” and referred to the pogroms in czarist Russia (against which the Bolsheviks had stood) as “the Russian counterpart of lynching bees.” In Germany, Josef Bilé sketched a lurid catalog of abuses and atrocities in Cameroon, his homeland, to introduce his argument that the oppression of American Negroes was a reflex of the global white backlash against rising Negro consciousness. Germany’s loss of its African possessions under the Versailles Treaty had reduced the German public’s receptiveness to anticolonialist discourses, while encouraging the foregrounding of contradictory visions of the United States. The European public was fascinated with its unique fusion of democratic and imperialist power. Louis Engdahl made this connection: “It is particularly fitting that a Negro Mother should have been the first to be invited by the German International Red Aid, raising sharply the actual picture of class oppression and mass misery in the US against the usually accepted and rainbow-hued glories of the land of prosperity and democracy.” In Britain, pride in imperial achievement could be checked by concerns of empire reformers who did not wish to be compared with the gratuitous and violent American apologists for lynching. The combination of glamour and horror that America represented gave a frisson to Scottsboro rhetoric and imagery. In “Niggers on a Train,” published in the City and East London Observer, radical novelist Louis Golding wrote of the two white girls “who certainly had no nodding acquaintance with Caesar’s wife . . . [C]an you wonder—should not every American citizen choke over his national anthem?” These reproaches challenged the popular view of America as a land of prosperity and optimism, underscoring instead backwardness and hypocrisy as the all-American roots of Scottsboro. The vision of the United States as the vanguard of a menacing new world order—dollar imperialism—was particularly resonant in Germany. Activists regarded the rhetorical claim that Germany under Versailles was itself a colony among colonies as a spurious excuse for avoiding serious anticolonial work. But the notion clearly had some appeal at a time when the KPD had climbed onto the anti-Versailles bandwagon.
The Scottsboro campaign relied heavily on a project of imagining and re-imagining blacks, both as Americans and as members of an internationally victimized, racially defined people. But it also involved the self-conscious mobilization of black people on a significantly new scale. Both black icons and black agency were present. As the campaign unfolded in the international arena, it did so within a rhetorical framework that ran the gamut from the Victorian melodramatic conventions of the antislavery movement to the Hollywood “darkie” movies to the “advanced” flourishes of Comintern circles. There was a tension in the campaign between the portrayal of the black masses, including the Scottsboro Boys, and the pointed presence of leading non-white Communists. Keeping the case before the European public meant making a variety of black people visible. The Communist press continuously ran images of the defendants, of Ada Wright, and of anonymous black agents and victims. Roy Wright’s face appeared on Red Aid fund-raising stamps, alongside “victims of the antifascist struggle” in Germany and abroad, while Ada Wright appeared on German and Czech postcards. Scottsboro personalities were represented by surrogates, nearly all of whom were black, or by blackface performers. In Copenhagen and Vienna, Scottsboro demonstrations featured floats bearing young men in blackface who represented the defendants. One of the star turns of the extraordinary Red Aid Pioneers of Wiesbaden-Biebrich was a show that included a drama in two acts entitled “Eight Negro Children to the Electric Chair”: “the audience went wild; if they couldn’t help laughing at the blacked-up Pioneers in American prison uniforms when the show started, they soon grasped what the story was about, and many a sympathetic tear rolled down their pale cheeks. And the adoption of a resolution to the President of America and a letter to the eight Negro children proved to us that it had been understood.” When Ada Wright arrived in Berlin, the Nazi paper Der Angriff attacked her tour as a “coup de théâtre.”
What did black participants themselves think of all of this? Not only whites addressed colonial or racial issues. Yet the force of black agency is too easily dismissed as impossible or weak in the face of the racism of the era. Comintern files reveal what common sense suggests was another world: black life in the 1930s, with its conflicts, gossip, its own racial stereotypes, egos, power plays, sexual innuendo, and its humanity. Predictably, Ada Wright’s visit was a focus of black observation and speculation as well as of active participation. In 1932, Padmore and the West Indian London organizer Arnold Ward corresponded. Ward wrote that the Negro Welfare Association had “appointed a delegation to go to the ‘Indian Workers'” asking, “what are they doing for the nine boys?” From Hamburg, Padmore was struggling to get Scottsboro literature into Africa; he also visited London, speaking in Poplar shortly before Wright’s visit. Yet Ward bemoaned the fact that only five blacks showed up at the 50,000-strong May Day demonstration, London’s largest to date. “For the last week the press here is giving plenty of publicity to Nancy Cunard and the Negroes here are like a lot of lost dogs hoping that this rich white woman will deliver them out of ‘Bondage,’ a useless God forsaken bunch of fools, instead of coming in with us and help to raise some funds to help the woman in her endeavor in pushing the case to the state Supreme Court.” Padmore rejoined, “I am sending you a Negro newspaper with news about Nancy. Also a clipping from the New York Times. . . [and Padmore says of Cunard], What’s wrong with her? She certainly makes herself cheap with all this newspaper notoriety.” Ward wrote: “The mother of one of the boys is coming over here . . . so they are all trying to make a good showing when she comes to say what they have done for her son. By the by, have you seen her, and what about your conference and was it a success—how is the fight in America? Nancy wrote that Ford is going South raisin hell with the crackers the fight I like to be in . . . don’t bother about Nancy. She is rich and don’t know what to do with herself.” When Ada Wright arrived, the NWA was not invited to meet her. Ward admonished that there were bad effects for the NWA with “coloured” workers. White activists dictated to blacks, using them when they wanted them, discarding them when they did not. But the Wright visit still inspired. As Ward relayed it to Padmore: “Since Mrs. Wright been here the International Solidarity has taken on a deeper and greater hold on the workers. Here more than I have ever seen before and I think it is for the best. Boy we are moving. Cheerio.” In a second account to Padmore: “the Scotsboro [sic] campaign was a big success overflowing meetings everywhere, Bob Lovell the Swine He work Mrs Wright like a Slave but this woman is a Good woman and will do anything for the party cause and Her two Children comes next. I really think that the party should take her in hand and train her because she is a gallant Fighter.”
There were let-downs for Ward:
all through the . . . campaign not one Negro Toiler was sold and hundreds ought to be sold [referring to Padmore’s book, The Life and Struggles of Negro Toilers]. Look here Padmore, you have to face the Situation as it is these people don’t like us and they only use us for a tool . . . but as long as we always have to be running to them cap in hand like a little lap dog, there [sic] will treat us like one . . . the Scotsboro Campaign was great—Bob Lovel [sic] worked Mrs. Wright like a Slave but poor woman She is Good and the white comrades the Women did all they could for Her. She had a better send off from Here than the Royal family.
By August, Ward had softened on Cunard: “I like [Nancy]—she is a fighter . . . [Y]ou will soon experience how it is impossible to work with Negroes over here you think London is New York. So you would soon find out.”
Such tensions did not abate. Saklatvala complained in 1934 that he had wanted a prominent Indian lawyer brought in to help with the Reichstag Fire trial campaign, another Communist mobilization. He had suggested the lawyer’s name and offered advice about how to prepare him for participation in the campaign:
However nothing happened and purely European Communism was got up and it has become the object of derision among certain colonial circles. The Indians and Africans naturally feel that the example of such an additional popular trial might be used as a wholesome check against British imperialist trials in their own countries, but they are kept out of contact with such international activities. These small things have a big effect and in India among a certain section of Indian youth internationalism has come to be disbelieved in, and Italian and German fascism are taken as good examples of intense nationalism.
Of his own doubts, Saklatvala wrote that he had wondered if it was an overtly nationalistic tendency in himself, reflecting on England as compared to his last tour of the Soviet Union:
I had heard free adverse comments about Negroes and Indians [in England], but on the whole I have always felt that it was want of due ability and right conception on their part that was responsible. After traveling international and autonomous regions [in the USSR], I find that the party policy in Great Britain ought to have been different, and the resentment of the colonials, though exaggerated and unnecessarily hostile, is one that is natural and has to be foreseen by good Communists.
In the United States, a party leader had to take his comrades to task for not treating the Scottsboro mothers correctly in their homes:
Mrs. Powell . . . was placed with the rankest sort of white chauvinist who put her to work washing dishes, scrubbing floors, washing dyties, etc . . . If our enemies had found out that we handled the mothers like we did, what would have been the result? Take it another way. If we knew these mothers were handled like this by the NAACP, would we not jump at their throats in meetings, conferences, etc? . . . [W]e have a special question and we cannot treat this question like we treat the ordinary question and like we treat the white workers.
The German “bourgeois” press continued to report on Scottsboro during 1933, but the Nazi takeover led to a rapid elimination of the conditions for public debate and the brutal interruption of the work of the people and organizations that had sustained the campaign in Europe. Some of the imagery of Scottsboro and of lynching persisted, now appropriated by the Hitler regime as a retort to American protests about Nazi anti-Semitism. Despite large Scottsboro protests that included the West African Students Union and the League of Coloured Peoples, the British ILD collapsed in 1934, never to be reconstituted in the form in which it existed at the time of Ada Wright’s tour. The Labour Party continued its surveillance of its leftist members and its prohibition of Communist front groups from Labour Party affiliation. But the collapse of German democracy and the crises that followed it introduced a new point of reference for the campaign in the form of the fight against fascism. For some, sympathies for the Scottsboro defendants and the anti-lynching movement would become wedded to the campaign against the Italian invasion of Abyssinia and responses to it, in both the British and U.S. contexts, as an attack on an African nation. Padmore would respond as an independent; his time with the Comintern had been short-lived. His expulsion from the Communist movement in 1933 occurred in tandem with the moves to abandon anti-imperial work orchestrated by the Comintern Seventh Congress, and was accompanied by Comintern charges leveled against him for African nationalist deviations; he believed that the USSR was seeking bourgeois allies and that his earlier writings on Liberia had given the Soviets a ready pretext to expel him at a point when his work had become too costly politically.
In Britain, the German refugee crisis began to supplant many other causes and to harness the energies of a wide spectrum of British activists, some of whom would also lend their names and voices to the support of the Spanish Republic. Many Scottsboro signatories were among the first to sign petitions for German refugees in 1933, including Leonard and Virginia Woolf, Winifred Holtby, Vera Brittain, and H. G. Wells. The Anglo-American National Committee to Aid Victims of German Fascism included Saklatvala, Havelock Ellis, Sylvia Pankhurst, Franz Boas, Langston Hughes, Louis Lozowick, Lincoln Steffens, and its chairman, Adam Clayton Powell—a classic interracial, “popular front” committee. Manifestos on China and Abyssinian refugee petitions circulated; committees of many of the same members formed and were continually reconstituted. But as the horrors of fascism transmogrified into the threat of war, the problems of white Europeans abruptly became more urgent and their interpretation more controversial. Both the international Left and America’s black communities experienced sharp divisions over the attitude to be taken toward German fascism and the impending imperialist (or was it to be anti-fascist?) conflict. Albert Einstein and others would withdraw from political activity. The Manchester Guardian was not alone in suggesting that the Communist Scottsboro defense had perhaps prolonged the defendants’ jail terms rather than abated them. This charge referred not simply to the involvement of the CPUSA but of the Communist International, whose greatest popular Scottsboro symbol had been Mother Wright.
As the end of the decade approached, the Scottsboro campaign shuffled along awkwardly beside these other mobilizations, sometimes as an integral issue, sometimes not. As an inspiration, the plight of the young black men had its moments; as a millstone of bureaucratic and organizational snafus, as a seemingly endless web of legal moves carried out by a large and changing cast of lawyers, Scottsboro floated in and out of public view. Ada Wright’s European tour is now a faded memory, a historical footnote, but at the time it portrayed in broad outline the possibilities and pitfalls, the contradictions and the ironies of interracial alliances, nationally and internationally, during the 1930s. Her visit informed her and those she knew of the presence of solidarities that they could not have previously imagined; she electrified Europeans, whose images of black American life now encompassed more than those offered by Paul Robeson or Josephine Baker or the forlorn victims of horrible, unstoppable lynchings. The case provided a concrete way for ordinary Europeans to act against racial injustice without dismantling empires or promoting revolution. In the time that elapsed between the first moments of news flashing out of northern Alabama to the first guns fired in the Allied war effort, Scottsboro captured and redefined for many, however imperfectly, what it meant to be broadly anti-racist, and reconfigured the meaning of being an international humanitarian; it altered the image of America abroad in the era of isolationism, in turn lending credibility to elements of an interracial European Left. The case and the campaign around it served as the occasion for the testing of many racial understandings; these in turn marked the racial landscape of the 1950s and 1960s in the Euro-American world of the Marshall Plan, McCarthyism, and the Civil Rights movement, in which survivors of the Scottsboro campaign and of wartime death and repression would, in many instances, participate. Their story poses a profound challenge to nationally limited interpretations that ignore the global antecedents of more contemporary events, and it is a far more significant story than touristic histories of Americans abroad. In sheer legal terms, the case set one of several precedents in the American courts for the notion of the unconstitutionality of all-white juries trying black defendants. We cannot know the precise impact of the international protests on the legal outcomes, but the Justice Department monitored U.S. embassy reports about the European and global campaign, and Franklin D. Roosevelt ultimately attempted to intervene, in part based on a Justice Department report done expressly for him.
The presence of family members clearly altered public perceptions of the campaign as strictly and simply involving Communists. Ada Wright presented herself, and was presented. She was watched, and she spoke. She read others’ words and her own. She had to use her own imagination in order to navigate the interwoven languages of Communism and of antislavery, assorted “black vernaculars” and terse Comintern slogans and signifiers. She was a member of a Primitive Baptist congregation in Chattanooga for most of her life, a devout and fervent sect on the extremes of the Baptist movement whose members exercised both discipline and physical rituals of religiosity and redemption. Privately, she had to render her fierce religious beliefs compatible with the kind of internationalist politics for which she had first been trained in Birmingham and New York City, and with which her many tours afforded such graphic encounters. She had to be shrewd. A white man who knew her in Tennessee commented, “Ada didn’t know a communist from an elephant.” But African Americans who knew her say that she reported to them, “there are people she met over there, white people, who treated her better than some of her own kind ever had at home.” And there are her letters posted from Chattanooga, asking after “the comrades” and sending greetings, penned in a literate, rather delicate hand. These letters ask for food, money, a winter coat, and children’s shoes, and were written through the late 1930s, and all through the war years, when she sought practical assistance, so well-deserved, from the white Communist Party ladies up in New York City. The words of her black ally Londoner Arnold Ward have yet another ring when he describes her as a woman of courage and advises Padmore that the party ought to “train her.”
When we reinvestigate what it meant to be a Communist, or a fellow traveler in the 1930s, when we seek to develop an analysis that flows from “a sensitivity to racial understandings”—we now see Ada Wright walking proud on Fleet Street. Must we not admit her to the canon of “anti-racist struggle,” of “internationalism” and “humanitarianism”? The record of her visit, briefly presented here, engages and unsettles the national histories of the countries that she crossed and the people that she met, and widens the terrain of “African-American experience” so that this experience confronts and resounds anew in the orthodox histories of European political culture. Wright’s sojourn in the Scottsboro campaign exemplified “motherhood,” even as it refused the silent constraint of the category. Her presence defied European racial and, indeed, Communist convention, even as it assuaged racial guilt. It posed a redefinition of the African-American presence even as it deployed a more comfortable, preexisting imagery. It set an indelible marker in the face of fascism’s triumph, even though Ada Wright never again crossed the great Atlantic waters or ventured so far from Tennessee. Without her and without the involvement of other family members, the campaign could not have forged the sympathies that it did; with her, Communists and other supporters could not behave or speak as the sole, authentic advocates of the defendants. Ada Wright enhanced the languages of the campaign and transformed its spirit. If her journey did not in and of itself “save her boys,” her talk and her presence altered racial understandings, even as the next global conflict drew near.
James A. Miller is a professor of English and American Studies and director of Africana Studies at George Washington University. His publications include Harlem: The Vision of Morgan and Marvin Smith (1998), Approaches to Teaching Wright’s “Native Son” (editor, 1997), and numerous articles and reviews on African-American literature and culture. A literary historian with a longstanding interest in the relationship between American writers and social and political movements, Miller wrote his dissertation on Richard Wright. This article is an outgrowth of his research on African-American cultural politics during the 1930s. His current project, Moments of Scottsboro, examines the impact of the Scottsboro case on American culture.
Susan D. Pennybacker is an associate professor of history at Trinity College in Hartford, Connecticut, where she has taught European history since 1983. She also serves as the director of the college’s Hartford Studies Project. Pennybacker is the author of A Vision for London: 1889–1914 (1995) and received her PhD from the University of Cambridge in 1984, where she studied with Gareth Stedman Jones. Her work on racial politics in the transatlantic world of the 1930s focuses on Britain and will be published as From Scottsboro to Munich: Racial Politics in Britain (Princeton University Press). Her paternal grandfather was a leader of juvenile court reform in Chattanooga.
Eve Rosenhaft is a Reader in the Department of German at the University of Liverpool, where she teaches German and European social and cultural history. She has done research in the history of labor and the Communist movement, women’s and gender history, and the German experience of ethnic and racial difference, on all of which she has published widely. Rosenhaft is currently engaged in book projects on the Nazi persecution of Sinti and Roma (“Gypsies”) and the origins of life insurance as gendered cultural practice in eighteenth-century Germany. The Scottsboro project represents the intersection of her longstanding research interests with memories of growing up as a pink-diaper baby in New York City in the 1950s and 1960s.
The authors thank the Russian State Archives of Social and Political History, Moscow (hereafter, RGASPI), for permission to cite records of the Comintern (Communist International), the Schomburg Center for Research in Black Culture of the New York Public Library for permission to cite records of the International Labor Defense, and Dr. Joyce Turner for permission to cite the Richard B. Moore Papers. We thank the Institute for Social History, Amsterdam; the Labour History Archive and Study Centre at the National Museum of Labour History, Manchester, England (hereafter, NMLH); Rhodes House Library, Oxford; the Siftung Archiv der Parteien und Massenorganisationen der DDR im Bundesarchiv, Berlin (hereafter, SAPMO); Staatsarchiv, Bremen (hereafter, StABr); Geheimes Staatsarchiv Preußischer Kulturbesitz, Berlin (hereafter, GehStA), Stadtarchiv Chemnitz, and the Hauptstaatsarchiv, Dresden, and all holders of other collections cited below, for permission to quote their records. This article derives in part from “Images of Scottsboro: Racial Politics and Internationalism in the 1930s,” co-authored by Miller and Pennybacker and presented at “Racializing Class, Classifying Race: A Conference on Labour and Difference in Africa, USA and Britain,” St. Anthony’s College, Oxford, 1997. The authors are grateful to audiences and commentators, including Ira Katznelson and Eric Hobsbawm, who heard this material in seminars and conferences in the United States, the United Kingdom, Germany, the Russian Federation, the Netherlands, and Japan. James A. Miller’s research was funded by the National Endowment for the Humanities/Aaron Diamond Foundation through the Schomburg Center’s Scholars-in-Residence Program (1994); the Office of the Dean of Faculty, College of Liberal Arts, University of South Carolina; and the Office of the Dean of Faculty, Columbian School of Arts and Sciences, George Washington University. He thanks his research assistants, Dr. Miles Richards and Rebecca Jones, of the University of South Carolina. His work in progress will appear as Moments of Scottsboro (Princeton University Press). Susan Pennybacker’s research was funded by the Rockefeller Foundation Humanist-in-Residence Schomburg fellowship at the City College of New York (1992–93), the Simon Rifkind Center for the Humanities, CCNY (1993–94), and the Office of the Dean of the Faculty, Trinity College, Hartford, Conn. She thanks William Chase, Adrienne Edgar, André Elisée, Susan Ferber, Wendy Goldman, Rick Halpern, Andrew Lee, John Lonsdale and Bruce Berman, David Montgomery, Ian Patterson, Denise Riley, John Saville, Margaret Mitchell Smith, and Dorothy Thompson for criticisms, references, and suggestions. Her work in progress will appear as From Scottsboro to Munich: Racial Politics in Britain (Princeton University Press). Eve Rosenhaft’s research was funded by the University of Liverpool and the Max Planck-Institut für Geschichte (Göttingen). She thanks her research assistant, Friederike Meyer-Renschhausen, in Berlin, and also Robbie J. M. Aitken in Liverpool. Archival assistance was provided by Doris Kammradt and the Trinity College Library. Interviewees and archival personnel remain anonymous in several instances, but the authors are no less grateful to them.
1 The two standard histories of the case are Dan T. Carter, Scottsboro: A Tragedy of the American South, rev. edn. (Baton Rouge, La., 1979); and James Goodman, Stories of Scottsboro (New York, 1994). Each offers extensive bibliography, but neither pursues the international defense campaign, or its archival sources, which are discussed in Mark Solomon, The Cry Was Unity: Communists and African Americans, 1917–1936 (Jackson, Miss., 1998), parts 2 and 3. Our chronology draws on Carter, 16–20, 22–54, 71; Goodman, 6–9, 24–25; Solomon, 193–94; and the following documents in the NAACP Papers: P. A. Stephens to Walter White, April 2, 1931; White to Stephens, April 20, 1931; Statement of Roy Wright, et al., April 23, 1931; White to “Lud,” April 29, 1931; White to Bob and Herbert, May 3, 1931; White to Herb and Bob, May 5, 1931; Notes, “Scottsboro, Ala-Case” , Library of Congress, NAACP Papers, Scottsboro Series, Microfilm Part 6. We note the new narrative presented in Barak Goodman and Daniel Anker’s film, Scottsboro: An American Tragedy, Social Media Productions (New York, 2001).
2 The Scottsboro case continues to be routinely invoked by contemporary writers in significantly different contexts. See, for example, Abigail Thernstrom and Henry D. Fetter, “Race and the O.J. Trial: From Scottsboro to Simpson,” Public Interest 122 (Winter 1996): 17–27.
3 For the international campaigns outside Europe, too extensive to be covered here, see, for example, RGASPI 500/1/16: 88–89; 539/2/474: 77–86, 97–100; 539/2/488: 85–86, 100, 114; 539/9/501: 4; 542/1/46: 1–2, 7–10; 542/1/51: 101. (The reader will note that individual documents from RGASPI are cited most often by folder and page numbers within the folder. In some instances, a document is titled instead. Where a folder number appears alone, the general contents of the folder are being cited as relevant.) J. Manley, “Document: The Canadian Labour Defense League and the Scottsboro Case,” Bulletin of the Committee on Canadian Labour History 4 (Autumn 1977). On antislavery, see, for example, Richard Blackett, Building an Anti-Slavery Wall: Black Americans in the Atlantic Abolitionist Movement, 1830–1860 (Ithaca, N.Y., 1983); Seymour Drescher, Capitalism and Antislavery: British Mobilization in Comparative Perspective (New York, 1987); Claire Midgley, Women against Slavery (London, 1992); Thomas Bender, ed., Antislavery Debate: Capitalism and Abolitionism as a Problem in Historical Interpretation (Berkeley, Calif., 1992); Leroy Hopkins, “‘Fred vs. Uncle Tom’: Frederick Douglass and the Image of the African-American in 19th-Century Germany,” Etudes germano-africaines 9 (1991). Paul Gilroy, “The Jubilee Singers and the Transatlantic Route,” in Gilroy, The Black Atlantic: Modernity and Double Consciousness (London, 1993), 87–96, cites a case occurring in the period between antislavery and Scottsboro.
4 Two histories that concern other periods, and sustain similar methodological frameworks, are Penny Von Eschen, Race against Empire (Ithaca, N.Y., 1997); Marcus Rediker and Peter Linebaugh, The Many-Headed Hydra (Boston, 2000). What many other existing studies share is a commitment to an exploration of the contact between “Europeans” and colonial or ex-colonial subjects, or between North Americans and “others” in analogous relationships. Despite a variety of theoretical alternatives and differing interpretations of the notion of a global order, the central axis of this literature remains the exchanges deriving from the exploitative core. “Non-western” histories of “non-white” agency are posed against a racist or anti-racist portrayal of groups of white Europeans, or those of European descent. When African Americans abroad are considered, it is most often as expatriate bohemians, such as the itinerant jazz artist. There are also histories involving “non-whites” who were resident in European contexts during the period prior to 1945. See, for example, Laura Tabili, “We Ask for British Justice”: Workers and Racial Difference in Late Imperial Britain (Ithaca, 1994); Tyler Stovall, Paris Noir: African Americans in the City of Light (Boston, 1996); Katharina Oguntoye, May Opitz, and Dagmar Schultz, Farbe bekennen (Berlin, 1986), trans. as Showing Our Colors: Afro-German Women Speak Out, Anne V. Adams, trans. (Amherst, Mass., 1991). While we do not suggest that the central locus of racial antagonism, or of racial terror (prior to 1933), was to be found in the European (even as distinct from the North American) theater of politics, racial interaction, interracial alliances, and the shaping of attitudes, both sympathetic and humanitarian, did occur in some important ways in those theaters. For a highly selective group of documents, placed in a particular interpretive framework, and drawn from the recently opened Russian Federation archives, including many from RGASPI, see Harvey Klehr, John Earl Haynes, and Fridrikh Igorevich Firsov, The Secret World of American Communism (New Haven, Conn., 1995); Klehr, Haynes, and Kyrill M. Anderson, The Soviet World of American Communism (New Haven, 1998). Haynes and Klehr, Venona: Decoding Soviet Espionage in America (New Haven, 1999), interprets and cites other newly released Russian documents.
5 See note 1, above.
6 James S. Allen, “The Scottsboro Struggle,” The Communist (May 12, 1933): 440. “Third Period” was the phrase used by N. I. Bukharin at the Seventh Plenum of the Comintern Executive in 1926 to denote an impending epoch of international ferment and revolutionary struggles. See Kevin McDermott and Jeremy Agnew, The Comintern: A History of International Communism from Lenin to Stalin (London, 1996), 68–119; McDermott, “Stalin and the Comintern during the ‘Third Period,’ 1928–33,” European History Quarterly 25 (1995): 409–29. The NAACP and other organizations dealing with racial issues had decisive ties to the parties of the Second (Socialist) International, a contributing factor in their inclusion in the list of “reformist” and “social fascist” organizations by Comintern-affiliated parties.
7 On the CPUSA and the case, see, for example, Mark Naison, Communists in Harlem during the Depression (New York, 1983), chaps. 3–5; Robin D. G. Kelley, Hammer and Hoe: Alabama Communists during the Great Depression (Chapel Hill, N.C., 1990), 77; and Solomon, Cry Was Unity, 300–01. On the case as racial spectacle, see, for example, Gilbert Osofsky, The Burden of Race: A Documentary History of Negro-White Relations in America (New York, 1967), 359.
8 See Hugh T. Murray, “The NAACP versus the Communist Party: The Scottsboro Rape Cases, 1931–32,” Phylon 28 (1967): 276–87; and “Aspects of the Scottsboro Campaign,” Science and Society 35 (Summer 1971): 177–92. On Walter White, see Robert L. Zangrando, The NAACP Crusade against Lynching, 1909–50 (Philadelphia, 1980), 100; White, “The Negro and the Communists,” Harper’s Monthly 164 (December 1931); White, A Man Called White: The Autobiography of Walter White (Athens, Ga., 1995). See also Roy Wilkins, Standing Fast: The Autobiography of Roy Wilkins (New York, 1982).
9 On “authenticity,” see, for example, Regina Bendix, In Search of Authenticity: The Formation of Folklore Studies (Madison, Wis., 1997), 3–23; and Charles Taylor, The Ethics of Authenticity (Cambridge, Mass., 1992), 28–29, 41.
10 See esp. James R. McGovern, Anatomy of a Lynching: The Killing of Claude Neal (Baton Rouge, La., 1982).
11 The Communist 9 (February 1931): 153–67, cited in Philip S. Foner and Herbert Shapiro, eds., American Communism and Black Americans: A Documentary History, 1930–34 (Philadelphia, 1991), 36–50. See Mark I. Solomon, Red and Black: Communism and Afro-Americans, 1929–35 (New York, 1988), 153–67.
12 The Communist 9 (February 1931), cited in Foner and Shapiro, American Communism, 50. On analogies between Russian minorities and “racial and ethnic minorities” in other contexts, see, for example, RGASPI 515/1/2338; 539/2/488: 291: “[all over the world] the coloured races are coming to recognize only in the Soviet Union have their problems been solved”; Hélène Carrère d’Encausse, The Great Challenge, Nationalities and the Bolshevik State, 1917–1930 (New York, 1992).
13 See, for example, Solomon, Red and Black, 180–81.
14 “Some Experiences in Organizing the Negro Workers,” The Communist (January 1930): 51–52.
15 RGASPI 495/154/425, “Resolution of Eastern Secretariat—Statement of Comrade Ballam,” September 11, 1930; “Ballam’s Statement,” December 21, 1929.
16 RGASPI 495/154/425: 49–51. Ballam survived these charges. See Kelley, Hammer and Hoe, 33–34, 177–78.
17 “For National Liberation of the Negroes! War Against White Chauvinism!” The Communist 11 (March 1932), cited in Foner and Shapiro, American Communism, 185–86. In a typical white chauvinism case, a party member was charged in Chicago: “Mrs. Estran had for some time expressed herself that the bringing in of Negro workers to the Jewish Workers Club headquarters will spoil the business of the Club [Restaurant] and drive away the children of the schools (schools where the little children are being taught in Jewish).” RGASPI 515/1/2021: 22. She was ultimately rehabilitated.
18 “For National Liberation of the Negroes!” 187; Solomon, Red and Black, 222–24.
19 See Francis Beckett, Enemy Within: The Rise and Fall of the British Communist Party (London, 1995), 1–89; Kevin Morgan, Against Fascism and War: Ruptures and Continuities in British Communist Politics, 1935–41 (Manchester, 1989), esp. chap. 1; and Stuart MacIntyre, A Proletarian Science: Marxism in Britain, 1917–33 (Cambridge, 1980). On black Left circles, see Peter Fryer, Staying Power: The History of Black People in Britain (London, 1984), chap. 10; Hakim Adi, West Africans in Britain, 1900–1960: Nationalism, Pan-Africanism and Communism (London, 1998); Black and Asian Studies Association Newsletter (Institute of Commonwealth Studies), entire run; and especially Stephen Howe, Anti-Colonialism in British Politics: The Left and the End of Empire, 1918–64 (Oxford, 1993). On Saklatvala, see Joyce M. Bellamy and John Saville, eds., The Dictionary of Labour Biography, vol. 6 (London, 1982), 236–41; Sehri Saklatvala, The Fifth Commandment, Biography of Shapurji Saklatvala (Salford, England, 1991), esp. chap. 24; Mike Squires, Saklatvala, A Political Biography (London, 1990). On the NWA and Arnold Ward, see, for example, RGASPI 542/1/66: 1–43; on Bridgeman, see Bellamy and Saville, Dictionary of Labour Biography, vol. 7 (1984), 26–40.
20 RGASPI 495/100/938: 206–07.
21 RGASPI 495/154/425, “Letter to the CPGB,” August 16, 1930; 495/100/710: 142.
22 See, for example, RGASPI 495/100/938. On the South African Party, see, for example, RGASPI 495/100/91; 495/155/83: 38–52, 56–67; 495/155/86: 440–45; Colin Bundy, The History of the South African Communist Party (Capetown, 1991), 19.
23 See Fryer, Staying Power, 298–321. Dutt was resident in Vienna during most of the events of the early Scottsboro campaign; see John Callaghan, Rajani Palme Dutt: A Study in British Stalinism (London, 1993). On Padmore, see James R. Hooker, Black Revolutionary: George Padmore’s Path from Communism to Pan-Africanism (London, 1967), chap. 3. On Kenyatta, see Jomo Kenyatta, Suffering without Bitterness: The Founding of the Kenya Nation (Nairobi, 1968), 33–43, 192; Woodford McClellan, “Africans and Black Americans in the Comintern Schools, 1925–1934,” International Journal of African Historical Studies 26 (1993); P. Mockerie, An African Speaks for His People, with a foreword by Julian Huxley (London, 1934), 11–21. On Kenyatta and Malinowski, see the Archives of the London School of Economics, British Library of Political and Economic Science, IAI 629, 39/129; and Malinowski Africa I, 15/496, Malinowski Students 5 (538). See, for example, Ralph Bunche Papers, “General Correspondence,” Box 10b, Schomburg Center, New York Public Library, for his associations with Padmore. An important strand of anti-racist organization existed among the Quakers (Friends) in Britain.
24 When Arnold Ward approached the CPUSA, asking for help in London Negro work, he was referred by William Patterson to Padmore as the leading figure in this work in Europe (see RGASPI 515/1/3373: 30). Padmore (Malcolm Nurse) was born in 1902 in Trinidad, the grandson of a slave. He worked and lived in the United States in the late 1920s, traveled to Russia, and edited Negro Worker briefly from Hamburg thereafter, was deported to Britain in 1933, and he mainly resided in London until his departure for Ghana in 1957, two years before his death (in the UK).
25 On the ITUCNW, see RGASPI 495/155/87, “First International Conference,” August 14, 1930; 534/3754: 1; 534/3/744: 92, 149; Hooker, Black Revolutionary, 26. Its roots lay in the LAI and the Red International of Labor Unions (Profintern), and it was founded at Hamburg in 1930, after Prime Minister Ramsay McDonald barred it from meeting in London. The Executive included African-American trade unionists, the Senegalese activist Garan Kouyatté, and the trade union leaders Frank Macauley of Nigeria and Albert Nzulu of Johannesburg. Negro Worker claimed 4,000 colonially based supporters, despite imperial bans against its sale, and was sold in many U.S. cities. The ITUCNW was disbanded by the Comintern in August 1933, but Negro Worker continued to be published out of Brussels, Copenhagen, and Harlem from Paris in 1936.
26 The humanitarian roots of Comintern anticolonialism lay in the LAI’s forerunner, the League Against Colonial Atrocities and Oppression, founded in Berlin in 1926. LAI presidents included the German physicist Albert Einstein, the French writer Henri Barbusse, and Mme. Sun Yat-Sen, American-educated widow of the first leader of the Chinese republic; its letterhead boasted the writers Upton Sinclair and Maxim Gorky, and the artist Diego Rivera, as well as political activists Augusto Sandino, Georgi Mikhailovich Dimitrov, Harry Pollitt, Jawaharlal Nehru, Shapurji Saklatvala, and Reginald Bridgeman. The British Labour Party left the LAI in 1927 and barred its members from affiliation in it from 1929 on.
27 See RGASPI 542/1/37: 8–10; 542/1/49: 150–51; 542/1/39: 101–02; 542/1/39: 142–43; 542/1/40: 119–23; 542/1/44; 542/1/54: 1–4; GehStA 77/4043/221: 9–17, 29–31. For a tendentious but detailed account of Comintern Negro and anticolonial work, see Rolf Italiaander, Schwarze Haut im roten Griff (Düsseldorf, 1962), 21–72. Willi Münzenberg (1889–1940) was a skilled organizer, propagandist, and political operator whose death by strangulation in southern France in 1940 was probably the work of Soviet agents. See Tania Schlie, ed., Willi Münzenberg (Frankfurt am Main, 1995); Stephen Koch, Double Lives: Spies and Writers in the Secret Soviet War of Ideas against the West (New York, 1994), published in Britain as Stalin, Willi Münzenberg and the Seduction of the Intellectuals (London, 1995). On Smedley and Chattopadhyaya, see Janice R. MacKinnon and Stephen R. MacKinnon, Agnes Smedley: The Life and Times of an American Radical (Berkeley, Calif., 1988), esp. 69–117; Jawaharlal Nehru, Jawaharlal Nehru: An Autobiography (London, 1936), 148–55.
28 See 10 Jahre Internationale Rote Hilfe: Resolutionen und Dokumente (Berlin, 1932); Hartmann Wunderer, Arbeitervereine und Arbeiterparteien: Kultur- und Massenorganisationen in der Arbeiterbewegung (1890–1933) (Frankfurt am Main, 1980), 98–105; José Gotovitch, Du rouge au tricolore: Les communistes belges de 1939 à 1944 (Brussels, 1992), 15.
29 Resolution of the Secretariat of the International Red Aid on IRA work among Negroes (November 3, 1930), in 10 Jahre Internationale Rote Hilfe, 193–98.
30 Tribunal (Berlin) VI/7 (July 1930): 6; VI/8 (August 1930): 2; VI/11 (September 15, 1930): 2; VII/7 (April 1931): 12; “Gastonia-Arbeiter in Barkenhoff,” Tribunal VI/9 (August 15, 1930): 18. See also Bezirksmitteilungsblatt des Bundes der Freunde der Internationalen Arbeiter-Hilfe, Hamburg-Schleswig-Holstein 4 (October 1929), SAPMO RY1/I2/8/87 (Flugblattsammlung der KPD); Lichtbildstreifen Faschismus: Rote Hilfe; Amnestie, SAPMO RY1/I4/4/23 (Rote Hilfe Deutschlands), 347–59. The Gastonia, North Carolina, textile strike occurred during 1929 at the Loray Mills, which had a work force of 3,500. See Liston Pope, Millhands and Preachers: A Study of Gastonia (New Haven, Conn., 1942).
31 RGASPI 534/3/668: 56, 56b. On the Hamburg bar scene and the International Union’s work, see RGASPI 534/3/668: 87.
32 RGASPI 495/155/86: 290, 294.
33 See, for example, the remarks of Willi Budich, RGASPI 539/3/525: 49–52.
34 RGASPI 515/1/1966: 31, 53; 515/1/2734: 39. Robert Minor (1884–1952), a former Socialist and editor of the Masses, wrote, “many of the present generation of Negroes learned by the historic Scottsboro struggle that the CP was the ship, and all else was the sea.” The Heritage of the Communist Political Association (New York, 1944), 43–44.
35 “Bloody Harlan County,” Kentucky, was the scene of a major strike in the U.S. mining industry in 1931 and disputes in 1932. See Mari Jo Buhle, Paul Buhle, and Dan Georgakas, eds., Encyclopedia of the American Left (Urbana, Ill., 1992), 753, 815, 873. An anti-lynching conference had been held in Chattanooga in 1925. See James W. Livingood, A History of Hamilton County, Tennessee (Memphis, Tenn., 1981), 341–44, on the earlier Chattanooga lynchings of Alfred Bloun and Ed Johnson. Jail terms were served in Washington, D.C., by the local authorities accused of negligence in the Johnson case. This regional episode may have predisposed the Scottsboro and Paint Rock authorities to bring the defendants to trial in 1931, preventing a lynching episode on the night of their seizure. (Livingood Interview with Susan Pennybacker, Chattanooga, February 1998). On the Johnson case, see Mark Curriden and Leroy Phillips, Jr., Contempt of Court: The Turn-of-the-Century Lynching That Launched 100 Years of Federalism (New York, 1998).
36 See RGASPI 515/1/2285: 6; see also 515/1/2285: 22–24, 26–30, 34a, 35–40, for the Johnson/Browder/Hathaway exchanges of 1931. Harry Jackson replaced Tom Johnson in Chattanooga later in 1931; Kelley, Hammer and Hoe, 25.
37 See the appeal of May 6, 1931, in 10 Jahre Internationale Rote Hilfe, 124b; Negro Worker 3 (April/May 1933): 12, and 1 (June 1931): 11; Die Rote Fahne (KPD newspaper), April 19, 1931; Polizeidirektion Nachrichtenstelle Bremen, Lagebericht, Number 5/31 (July 8, 1931), StABr 4,65-IV.i.c.11; Arbeiterstimme (Dresden), June 9, 1931; Vorwärts (June 10, 1931), late edition; Die Rote Fahne, July 2, 1931; Chemnitzer Tageblatt, July 12, 1931. Louis Engdahl reported to Moscow that a German worker and Scottsboro demonstrator was later murdered by the police in Chemnitz; RGASPI 539/3/1096, May 17, 1932.
38 RGASPI 539/2/488: 58. For an example of U.S. press coverage, see “The World Looks at Scottsboro,” Newport News Star, July 23, 1931, NAACP Papers, Scottsboro Series, Microfilm Part 6, Reel 8, Frame 282. On Wright’s remarks, see interview material in the possession of Susan Pennybacker.
39 RGASPI 539/9/501: 23. The African-American writer Lloyd Brown, a CPUSA youth leader in the 1930s, resided in the USSR for part of the 1930s. He wrote Scottsboro pamphlets for the Soviets and recalls traveling widely to collective farms with a young translator, in order to speak about the case (Brown Interview with Susan Pennybacker, London, April 18, 1998).
40 Wright was born close to 1890, the granddaughter of a slave. She also had two daughters: Lucille (who toured in the campaigns as a child) and Beatrice (Emma Maddox). After her tour, Wright remained a domestic, and her employers were fully aware of the case. She had no outstanding political connections, although she remained in contact with various campaign figures and continued to tour in the United States after 1932. She died in 1965. Those who knew her attested to her forcefulness of commitment, depth of character, and her oft-stated desire to “go all the way for her boys” (interview material, 1996–99; in the possession of Susan Pennybacker). For her visit to New York before her departure for Europe and an encounter with the NAACP, see Naison, Communists in Harlem, 60–61.
41 See RGASPI 539/4/54, Louis Engdahl, “Scottsboro in Germany”; Elizabeth Lawson, “Scottsboro’s Martyr: J. Louis Engdahl” (New York, [ca. 1933]).
42 Hamburger Volkszeitung, May 6–7, 1932; Die Rote Fahne, May 13, 1932; “Abt. IA PKD, 13.5.32,” GehStA 219/19, 107b. Wright and/or Engdahl were able to speak in eastern Saxony, the Ruhr, and Darmstadt and were banned from speaking in Berlin, Altona, Hamburg, Hannover, Stuttgart, and Leipzig. See “Die Scottsboro-Kampagne in Europa,” MOPR (journal of International Red Aid) VII, 8 (November 1932); J. Louis Engdahl, “Die Scottsboro Europa-Tournee: Eine Großtat,” MOPR VII, 12 (December 1932); correspondence between the German Foreign Office, Interior Ministry, and Bremen authorities, StABr 4,65-XXIII.5; Saxon Ministry of the Interior to police authorities, May 21, 1932, Hauptstaatsarchiv Dresden (Bautzen), AH Löbau, Sig. 2227: 126; Protest Resolution of RHD Bezirk Hessen-Frankfurt to Prussian Interior Ministry, May 4, 1932, GehStA 77/4043/386: 32.
43 RGASPI 539/4/54: 99. Pressed by the ILD to defend the costs of his presence, he wrote, “As for Mrs. Wright, I am having her write her own statement, as best she can, stating her own viewpoint. My own opinion is that it would have been a catastrophe to have sent her alone,” adding that no English was spoken in, for example, southern Saxony. RGASPI 515/1/3017: 130.
44 See RGASPI 539/5/126: 146–52; Protokoll des 1. Weltkongresses der Internationalen Roten Hilfe (Moscow, 1933). On Austria, see New York Herald Tribune, May 24, 1932; New York Times, May 27, 1932; New York World Telegram, May 25, 1932. On Belgium, see New York World Telegram, June 10, 1932; poster for the Brussels meeting, “Une Nouvelle Affaire Sacco-Vanzetti. Au Secours . . . ,” ILD Papers, Schomburg Center, Reel 3; J. Ludwig [sic] Engdahl, “Scottsboro, Vandervelde und Belgisch-Kongo,” MOPR VII, 8 (August 1932), 13–15.
45 On France, see, for example, Magdeleine Paz to Walter White, June 25, 1932, on Wright’s speech in the Salle Wagram, Paris: “Ada’s presence and speech produced great feeling . . . In a general sense, this affair has revived a live interest in the race question”: NAACP Papers, Scottsboro Series, Microfilm Part 6, Reel 5, Frames 893–94; RGASPI 515/1/3016: 66–70; “French Municipality Demands, ‘Free the Scottsboro Boys,'” Daily Worker (London), August 13, 1932. The British government’s Foreign Office file for Ada Wright indicates that officials felt that the government ought not to register an official protest to the American government, despite trade union demands, because protests so lodged for Sacco and Vanzetti had been unsuccessful, implying that such government protests in the Scottsboro case might backfire. “A negress named Wright” was on her way to Britain; one official wrote, “I told the HO [Home Office] that I did not think there was any special ground necessitating instructions for her to be refused admission” (25.5 and co-signed 25.6). The CPGB claimed responsibility for fighting the government to victory on this issue, but the file surely indicates a more complex situation. Public Record Office, Foreign Office, FO 371/15875, paper 3038.
46 Daily Worker (London), (July 29, 1932): 2; (June 30): 1–2; (July 2): 2; (July 4): 2; (July 5): 2. The coverage afforded Ada Wright’s British tour by Nancy Cunard’s Negro seems to have been directly lifted from the Daily Worker (London). See Nancy Cunard, ed., Negro: An Anthology (New York, 1969), 245–69, for a narrative in the self-same words, yet without attribution. Negro was originally published by Lawrence and Wishart in London in 1934. Cunard was not in Britain during the Wright visit.
47 Engdahl wrote to the Red Aid office in Berlin, stating that both De Valera and Irish nationalist James Larkin, Jr., had been approached about the tour; RGASPI 515/1/3017: 288–89. De Valera wished to preserve his American connection and to maintain a policy of anti-Communism. See Tim Pat Coogan, Eamon De Valera: The Man Who Was Ireland (New York, 1995), 414, 424–26, 433, 722 n. 80. Reginald Bridgeman wrote to Padmore: “Valera refuses to allow Mrs. Wright to visit the Irish Free State in order to win a little credit with the United States Government at the expense of the Negroes.” RGASPI 534/3/756: 90.
48 See “The Scottsboro Campaign in the Scandinavian Countries,” ILD Papers, Schomburg Center, Reel 3; “Über die Scottsboro-Kampagne,” MOPR VII, 11 (November 1932), 24–25; “Mor till två dödsdömda barn” (Swedish newspaper clipping, NAACP Papers, Scottsboro Series, Microfilm Part 6, Reel 8, Frames 801–02). The attendance figures published in the Comintern press were certainly inflated.
49 ‘Über die Scottsboro-Kampagne,” 24–25; Robert Lejour, “Die Aktion der Roten Hilfe während des belgischen Bergarbeiterstreiks,” MOPR VII, 12 (December 1932), 16–18; Die Rote Fahne, August 24, 1932. The phrase “moving and often murderous” is that of Camille Lemonnier (1888), cited by Patricia Penn Hilden, Women, Work and Politics: Belgium 1830–1914 (Oxford, 1993), 90.
50 Ada Wright, “Ich gehe ins Gefängnis für meine beiden Söhne,” MOPR VII, 11 (November 1932), 23. On her visits to Hungary and Bulgaria, see RGASPI 539/3/1096: 152–54b; 539/2/474: 114, 120, 134; 515/4/7: 41; Engdahl, “Die Scottsboro Europa-Tournee,” 11. Wright stated that she was unable to enter Italy, Romania, Poland, Greece, and Finland.
51 Engdahl, “Die Scottsboro Europa-Tournee,” 11. Engdahl wrote to Padmore of his fear of sending papers to the Hamburg office, as it was under surveillance and had been raided; RGASPI 534/3/754: 128.
52 Protokoll des 1. Weltkongresses der Internationalen Roten Hilfe (Moscow, 1933), 250, 261; Lawson, “Scottsboro’s Martyr,” 1–3, 6.
53 See “Story of Scottsboro,” March 17, 1934, New York, Richard B. Moore Papers, Schomburg, 6 (14), 11/22. A Bronx Coliseum meeting in 1932 mourned Engdahl’s death and was attended by 12,000 people and addressed by Ada Wright and Mother Mooney (see note 96 below). Naison, Communists in Harlem, 74; RGASPI, 539/3/1096: 52.
54 Interview material in possession of Susan Pennybacker. Richard B. Moore, for example, wrote about Ada Wright to John P. Davis of the National Negro Council: “The appeal of a mother is very effective, as you know, and her appearance will help greatly to stimulate that united action.” Moore Papers, 6 (14), 6/2, October 6, 1937.
55 Zora Neale Hurston, “Characteristics of Negro Expression,” in Cunard, Negro, 46.
56 Lloyd Brown stated that the use of the term “boys” had only belatedly aroused controversy; for those involved in the campaign, the usage was not pejorative, and he recalled that the party’s involvement with the defendants was as “cases, not individuals.” Brown described them as at the bottom “economically and culturally,” members of “the Lumpenproletariat” (Brown Interview). See Trudier Harris, Exorcising Blackness: Historical and Literary Lynching and Burning Rituals (Bloomington, Ind., 1984), 23–24; Sandra Gunning, Race, Rape and Lynching: The Red Record of American Literature, 1890–1912 (New York, 1979). On the psycho-sexual origins of the image of blacks as primitives and potential rapists, see, for example, Winthrop Jordan, White over Black: American Attitudes toward the Negro, 1550–1812 (Chapel Hill, N.C., 1968). On the impact of these images on American popular culture and the mass media, see Donald Bogle, Toms, Coons, Mulattoes, Mammies and Bucks: An Interpretive History of Blacks in American Films (New York, 1989). On D. W. Griffith’s film The Birth of a Nation as a key source of these images, see Thomas Cripps, Slow Fade to Black: The Negro in American Film, 1900–1942 (New York, 1977); Michael Rogin, “The Sword Became a Flashing Vision: D. W. Griffith’s ‘The Birth of a Nation,'” Representations 9 (Winter 1985).
57 Helen Marcy, “Whip Up Lynch Mobs against Nine Negroes in Alabama,” Southern Worker, April 4, 1931, cited in Foner and Shapiro, American Communism, 250.
58 “Nine Negro Workers Face Lynch Mob in Alabama as Trial Opens on Horse-Swapping Fair Day,” Daily Worker (New York), April 7, 1931, cited in Foner and Shapiro, American Communism, 251.
59 Kelley characterizes the black press as describing the defendants as “poorly-trained . . . primitive when we think of intelligence”; Hammer and Hoe, 80.
60 Goodman, Stories, 5, 91.
61 “Scottsboro Boys Appeal from Death Cells to the Toilers of the World,” Negro Worker, May 1932, cited in Foner and Shapiro, American Communism, 292–93.
62 Goodman, Stories, 92, 94, 235, 237.
63 On minstrelsy in Britain, see, for example, Harry Reynolds, Minstrel Memories: The Story of Burnt Cork Minstrelsy in Great Britain from 1836 to 1927 (London, 1928), 39, 15; Ernest Henry Short and Arthur Compton Rickett, Ring Up the Curtain, Being a Pageant of English Entertainment Covering Half a Century (London, 1938), 21; Michael Pickering, “Race, Gender and Broadcast Comedy: The Case of the BBC’s Kentucky Minstrels,” European Journal of Communication 9 (September 1994). The issue of how African Americans should be represented in speech, literature, the visual arts, and popular culture has long been central to black cultural politics. Most black artists and critics have recognized, or assumed, a connection between these issues of representation and public policy, that is, that there is an integral connection between how black people are seen, heard, perceived, portrayed in various art forms and how they are treated by their fellow citizens. For important early twentieth-century statements on this issue, see the symposium moderated by W. E. B. Du Bois, “The Negro in Art: How Shall He Be Portrayed?” The Crisis (1926), all issues; “Criteria of Negro Art,” The Crisis 32 (October 1926); Sterling A. Brown, “Negro Character as Seen by White Authors,” Journal of Negro Education 2 (April 1933), cited in Mark A. Sanders, ed., A Son’s Return: Selected Essays of Sterling A. Brown (Boston, 1996), 149–83; Bogle, Toms, Coons, Mulattoes. On minstrelsy and American culture, see, for example, Joseph Boskin, Sambo: The Rise and Demise of an American Jester (New York, 1986); David Roediger, The Wages of Whiteness: Race and the Making of the American Working Class (New York, 1991). Debates about the attempts to recreate African-American vernacular speech have flared up periodically in twentieth-century African-American cultural politics. For a thoughtful recent discussion, see “Black Vernacular Representation and Cultural Malpractice,” in Tommy L. Lott, The Invention of Race: Black Culture and the Politics of Representation (Malden, Mass., 1999), 84–110. For two excellent studies of the ways in which the literary Left grappled with these issues during the 1920s–1940s, see James Edward Smethurst, The New Red Negro: The Literary Left and African American Poetry, 1930–1946 (New York, 1999); and William J. Maxwell, New Negro, Old Left: African-American Writing and Communism between the Wars (New York, 1999).
64 The Scottsboro propaganda material used by the “official” (Red Aid) Scottsboro committees—most of it originating with the CPUSA—was literally translated into the principal languages of the Comintern (French, German, Spanish, and Russian) in the Comintern offices and reissued for use internationally. The national sections deployed this material in combination with locally edited text to produce their own leaflets and reports for circulation to the party and non-party press (see, for example, the annual report of German Red Aid for 1932, in GehStA 77/4043/386: 52–54). The Comintern files include numerous examples of this process. Translated versions of texts attributed to the defendants and to Mrs. Wright take no account of the peculiarities of Negro diction highlighted in the American originals, even allowing for the fact that there was not necessarily “authenticity” to the American “originals.”
65 RGASPI 515/1/2285: 26. See also 28–30, 34b, 35–40, 59–60. On the half-Negro jury debate, see 515/1/2222: 7–8.
66 RGASPI 515/1/2285: 28: “The bosses and landlords incite the white workers and croppers . . . but they make women and children, white and black, slave long hours in their mills for starvation wages.” Johnson would also explain: “Well, these 10,000 whites [mob at the trial], were ragged, many of them had not had a square meal for days. They were poor farmers from the state of Tennessee and yet they constituted a real potential force of fascism because we had never approached these poor farmers with our propaganda, our agitation, and because we have never organized them for the struggle against their present conditions.” RGASPI 515/1/2222: 32. Elizabeth Lawson wrote, typically, in contradistinction to Johnson’s language: “On April 6, in response to the call of the landlords’ newspapers, the little town of Scottsboro held ten thousand mountaineers. The boss-incited lynch-mob of the most backward people packed the court-house and surrounded it.” “Scottsboro’s Martyr,” 3.
67 RGASPI 515/1/2586: 7, draft, “Letter from B. D. Amis to The Liberator,” April 21, 1931.
68 RGASPI 515/7/2023: 19. See also Naison, Communists in Harlem, 36–37, 136–37, 259–60. Ann Snitow observes: “the party’s allegiance to the Soviet Union, with its sexually repressive policies, fostered a suspicion of any sexual questioning as a symptom of bourgeois degeneracy. Instead, the CP often viewed sexual conservatism as a cultural bridge to the masses.” Snitow, Christine Stansell, and Sharon Thompson, eds., Powers of Desire: The Politics of Sexuality (New York, 1983), 19. See also Van Gosse, “‘To Organize in Every Neighborhood, in Every Home’: The Gender Politics of the American Communists between the Wars,” Radical History Review 50 (1991); Kelley, Hammer and Hoe, 79; and “‘Afric’s Son with Banner Red’: African-American Communists and the Politics of Culture,” in Race Rebels: Culture, Politics and the Black Working Class (New York, 1994), 103–21. The issue of rape in relation to the Scottsboro case has its most insightful critic in Jacqueline Dowd Hall. See Revolt against Chivalry: Jesse Daniel Ames and the Women’s Campaign against Lynching (New York, 1979), 197–206; and “‘The Mind That Burns in Each Body’: Women, Rape and Racial Violence,” in Snitow, Stansell, and Thompson, Powers of Desire, 328–49. The elimination of a debate on guilt or innocence in the Scottsboro case presumably served to diffuse incipient tensions among the defendants’ supporters. But we cannot assume that debate on this issue necessarily subsided entirely, in or outside the Communist movement. (On the methodological contentions, see, for example, Gunning, Race, Rape and Lynching, 3.) In involving the mothers in the case, the CPUSA/ILD/Red Aid campaign obviously sought to soften the image of a “negative” male blackness by promoting “appealing” and “non-sexual” mothers and children.
69 Sol Harper reported on this to the Negro Department of the CPUSA’s Trade Union Unity League in 1930 (RGASPI 515/1/2024: 16), and claimed that he complained of this practice to a party strike leader, who replied that “the Klan is working with us”; 19.
70 RGASPI 515/1/4074: 33, citing Labor Defender (July 1937): 6.
71 On the key white anti-lynching organization in the South, whose philosophy accommodated a range of assumptions about white womanhood and rape, see Hall, Revolt against Chivalry. Lady Simon, Kathleen Manning Simon, the Liberal leader of antislavery work, corresponded with Jesse Ames and with the NAACP, hosting Walter White and others in England. See Ames to Simon, February 14, 1935; White to Simon, November 7, 1934, Rhodes House Library, Brit. Emp. MSS S25 K22; and White, Man Called White, 96–97.
72 RGASPI 515/1/3016: 48, “Negro and White Workers . . . Save the 9 Scottsboro Boys” (a leaflet from Akron, Ohio, 1932). Lloyd Brown recalled meeting Ruby Bates during the campaign, after she had joined forces with the ILD and the mothers. He said that he was “not impressed by her.” He described her as “ignorant . . . uncultured . . . not an admirable person” (Brown Interview with Pennybacker). Walter White succinctly recalled: “tough hard-boiled Victoria Price, a cotton mill worker and part-time prostitute, and a younger mill worker, also free with her favors for a price, Ruby Bates”; White, Man Called White, 126. See Goodman, Stories, 19–23.
73 See Ruby Bates to Richard B. Moore, July 8, 1933, written after the recantation of her earlier testimony and her absorption by the ILD campaign: “I received your letter frieday [sic] and was very glad to hear that you was having good meetings . . . I am at Unity [camp] and I try to read but some how or other I can’t get interested in reading but I read the daily worker every day . . . I am going to help carry the fight on here for the freedom of the boys not only the Scottsboro boys but for all other class war prisoners . . . Give my love and best regards to Lester and Mrs. Patterson. I hope our struggle for the boys will be successfull. I close with my love . . . and best wishes for the meetings. Comradely greetings, Ruby Bates.” Moore Papers, 6 (14), 6/2.
74 RGASPI 542/1/53: 75–78; Alfons Goldschmidt, “Richter Lynch,” Die Weltbühne 28/17 (April 26, 1932): 639–40. In its discussion of the attitudes of the Ku Klux Klan, this article contains the only reference within the German campaign to the affinity between racism and anti-Semitism.
75 See Goodman, Stories, 83, 84, 153, 199, 237. On the use of “motherhood” as a locus of political mobilization in labor, socialist, internationalist, and rightist political movements, see, for example, Amy Swerdlow, Women Strike for Peace: Traditional Motherhood and Radical Politics in the 1960s (Chicago, 1993), 38, 235, 243; and Diana Taylor, “The Mothers of the Plaza de Mayo,” in Alexis Jetter, Annelise Orleck, and Diana Taylor, eds., The Politics of Motherhood: Activist Voices from Left to Right (Hanover, N.H., 1997), 189, 192.
76 RGASPI 515/1/2222: 15.
77 Editorial, Birmingham Post (Alabama), August 24, 1932 (clipping in NAACP Papers, Scottsboro Series, Microfilm Part 6, Reel 8, Frame 724).
78 RGASPI 515/1/2586: 16, “Interacial Protest Meeting,” May 30, 1931.
79 Children’s protest letter from Wiesbaden-Biebrich, RGASPI 539/3/528: 122; “Les blancs contre les nègres: Le procès de Scottsboro,” MS dated March 2, 1936, RGASPI 539/5/195: 16.
80 Daily Worker (London) (June 30, 1932): 1.
81 Daily Worker (London) (June 30, 1932): 1.
82 Daily Worker (London) (July 5, 1932): 2.
83 “Stop the Lynching of Nine Negro Boys,” Anti-Imperialist Youth Bulletin, May–June 1931, RGASPI 542/1/53: 75; 8 Negerkinder auf den elektrischen Stuhl (Berlin, 1931); Strijdt met de Roode Hulp voor de Negers van Scottsboro (Amsterdam, 1933). On the appeal of the mothers, see RGASPI 539/2/474: 119–23.
84 See RGASPI 539/3/528: 113–30; Sturmplan der RHD Bezirk Mittelrhein, July–September 1931, GehStA 77/4043/385: 211–38; letter from RHD Berlin to RH-Pioneers in Cannstatt (Württemberg), April 8, 1932, GehStA 77/4043/386: 28–31.
85 RGASPI 539/9/501: 30. See also White, Man Called White, 68.
86 “Scottsboro ‘Mother Sympathy’ Hoax Pulled Off Again,” Omaha Guide, August 1, 1931, NAACP Papers, Scottsboro Series, Microfilm Part 6, Reel 8, Frame 307; and again as William Pickens, Seattle Enterprise, July 24, 1931.
87 RGASPI 515/1/3017: 268.
88 On the Netherlands, see De VARA rede van Ada Wright: Wat de negermoeder in het engelsch sprak en waarom de VARA valsch vertaald heeft (Amsterdam, 1932). On Belgium, see Engdahl, “Scottsboro, Vandervelde und Belgisch-Kongo.” On Sweden, see “The Wright-Engdahl Tour,” ILD Papers, Schomburg Center. On France, see Magdeleine Paz to Walter White, June 25, 1932, and clippings from Le populaire: NAACP Papers, Scottsboro Series, Microfilm Part 6, Reel 5, Frames 901–07. See Protokoll des 1. Weltkongresses der Internationalen Roten Hilfe, 82, 164. The Executive of the International Red Aid urged “the necessity of ensuring that the leadership of the campaign did not pass into the hands of the Social Democratic and petty bourgeois liberal elements”; RGASPI 539/2/474: 69.
89 See “Scottsboro Special,” Anti-Imperialist Youth Bulletin, September 1931, RGASPI 542/1/53: 57 (13); Daily Worker (London) (July 1, 1932): 2; Gillies-Morrison Correspondence, NMLH ID/CI/8; NMLH ID/CI/10; William Gillies, The Communist Solar System, NMLH ID/CI/8/44. In 1931, thirty-three Labour MPs signed a protest letter in support of the defendants.
90 Daily Worker (London), (July 7, 1932): 2.
91 RGASPI 542/1/43. See David Abercrombie to Lonsdale (November 14, 1991): 2, in possession of John Lonsdale. Nancy Cunard played an increasingly active role in the campaign after 1932, although all accounts indicate that she never joined the CPGB. In early 1933, she went to London, and in that period, her Scottsboro defense organization emerged.
92 Daily Worker (London) (July 4, 1932): 2. Power was a professor of economic history; Laski taught political science; Tawney was a reader in economic history. See the Oxford “Boar Hill” petition, in Weekend Review, October 8, 1932, signed by Hugh Walpole, H. G. Wells, Leonard and Virginia Woolf, Stephen Spender, Louis Golding, and Bertrand Russell, who subsequently wrote to William Gillies, “I am a Socialist and as much opposed to Communism as you are. I do not intentionally associate myself with any movement inspired by the Communists.” September 18, 1933, NMLH ID/CI/39/16.
93 Associated Press report of July 4, 1931 (NAACP Papers, Scottsboro Series, Microfilm Part 6, Reel 8, Frame 248); RGASPI 539/2/474: 27–29. For examples of public interest from the “bourgeois press,” see reports in Hamburgischer Correspondent (May 7, 1932), late edition; General-Anzeiger (Dortmund), May 17, 1932; Berliner Tageblatt (June 2, 1932), morning edition, and April 11, 1933; Vossische Zeitung (October 11, 1932), morning edition.
94 Alfons Goldschmidt, 8 Menschen in der Todeszelle (Berlin, 1932); RGASPI 539/3/524: 129–37. On Goldschmidt and the independent Left milieu in which he operated, see Kurt Hiller, Köpfe und Tröpfe: Profile aus einem Vierteljahrhundert (Hamburg, 1950), 273–79; István Deák, Weimar Germany’s Left-Wing Intellectuals: A Political History of the Weltbühne and Its Circle (Berkeley, Calif., 1968).
95 RGASPI 539/3/528: 113–16, 122. Mass signatures were also gathered in the USSR.
96 Komitee zur Rettung von Mooney und Billings to ILD New York, September 12, 1932 (copy in NAACP Papers, Scottsboro Series, Microfilm Part 6, Reel 6, Frames 69–72); “Internationale Hilfs-Vereinigung,” Die Weltbühne 28/1 (January 5, 1932): 40. Tom Mooney (1892–1942) was the object of a celebrated labor “frame-up” case. He and Warren Billings (1893–1972) spent 1916–1939 in prison on homicide charges stemming from a bomb explosion in San Francisco. See Esolv Ethan Ward, The Gentle Dynamiter: A Biography of Tom Mooney (Palo Alto, Calif., 1983). After a long campaign, partly involving his mother, who died in the course of it (and whose image and persona were heavily marketed by the Comintern), he was freed in 1939, his health broken. See Buhle, Encyclopedia, 485–87. Mrs. Mooney traveled in the United States with the Scottsboro Mothers. See also Mooney to Engdahl: “[I] highly appreciate efforts on my behalf. However—I object [to] using [my] Mother in factional disputes”; and Mooney to Magdeleine Paz, March 1932, in which he refers to “the nine small young colored (Negro) boys of Scottsboro, Alabama, USA.” RGASPI 515/1/3017: 67, 93.
97 See, for example, RGASPI 539/2/474: 274–75. See Charles Martin, The Angelo Herndon Case and Southern Justice (Baton Rouge, La., 1976); Angelo Herndon, Let Me Live (1937; rpt. edn., New York, 1969). Herndon was a nineteen-year-old CPUSA member who organized a hunger march in Atlanta involving blacks and whites and was jailed until 1937 for the capital offense of “attempting to incite insurrection.” Buhle, Encyclopedia, 307; RGASPI 515/1/3754: 64–65; 70–72; 515/1/3933.
98 See Der Weltkongress der internationalen Wassertransportarbeiter und seine Beschlüsse (Hamburg, 1932), 4; Hamburger Volkszeitung, May 21–22, 1932. Police correspondence and reports on the meeting do not mention Ada Wright; GehStA 77/4043/427: 52–56. On the Amsterdam Anti-War Congress, see “Über die Scottsboro-Kampagne,” 119.
99 Keesings Contemporary Archives, entries for July 21–22, August 6–8, and September 6–7, 1932; “Der Ausstand in Belgien,” Gewerkschaftliche Monatshefte 42, no. 31 (July 1932): 485–87. On Kladno, see The Times (London), March 26, 30, and 31, April 2 and 14, 1932; J. Steiner, “Uhelné dolovani na kladensku za prvni republiky,” Slezky Sborník 79 (1981): 1–27. On Scandinavia, reports refer to “the strike area of Söderhamn [Sweden].” See “Scottsboro Campaign in the Scandinavian Countries.”
100 Die Rote Fahne, June 4, 1931. The veteran of the Bavarian Soviet Republic was either Erich Mühsam or Ernst Toller; both regularly appeared on Scottsboro platforms. The 1931 murders were those of the police captains Anlauf and Lenk, a crime for which Erich Mielke, minister for State Security of the German Democratic Republic from 1957 until 1989, was sentenced to six years’ imprisonment in 1993. See Eve Rosenhaft, Beating the Fascists: The German Communists and Political Violence 1929–1933 (Cambridge, 1983), 113–14; and Heribert Schwan, Erich Mielke: Der Mann, der die Stasi war (Munich, 1997), 159.
101 Abt. IA PKD 13.5.32, GehStA 219/19: 107–08; “Die Scottsboro-Kampagne in Europa,” 14–16.
102 Daily Worker (London) (July 7, 1932): 2. Hutchinson’s mother, Gladys Knight, also spoke at the Anti-War Congress, in Amsterdam, as did Wright (RGASPI 495/72/218: 37–39). The celebrated conspiracy trial was held at Meerut, a rural seat outside Delhi, in order to isolate its defendants. Thirty-three trade union and Communist leaders were on trial for treason, charged with conspiring to deprive the king of his sovereignty by overthrowing British rule in India. English trade unionist and Communist Ben Bradley of the Amalgamated Engineers, a member of the CPGB, and Hutchinson were two of three British defendants (RGASPI 495/100/938). The Comintern organizations and the LAI were named as parties to the conspiracy. In 1933, twelve of the defendants received transportation sentences; one received life imprisonment and others, two-year terms. The appeal of the decisions was ultimately successful. The British Meerut National Appeal Committee was part of an international Comintern campaign, very often linked with Scottsboro. Chattopadhyaya, Bob Lovell, Willi Münzenberg, Harry Pollitt, Saklatvala, Agnes Smedley, Einstein, Romain Rolland, and Rabindranath Tagore were Meerut campaign signatories. See the letter signed by Wells, Laski, and Tawney, Manchester Guardian, December 8, 1929; RGASPI 542/1/51: 55, 64–72; 495/100/717: 17–20; 495/100/911: 42–43. For an irreverent critique of the campaign, the largest such in Britain until those around Spain and the German refugees, see Left Review 2 (July–December 1931): 161. See Devandra Singh, Meerut Conspiracy Case and the Communist Movement in India, 1929–35 (Meerut, 1995); Lester Hutchinson, Conspiracy at Meerut (London, 1935), dedicated to Gladys Knight; and Philip Spratt, Blowing Up India: Reminiscences and Reflections of a Former Comintern Emissary (Calcutta, 1955).
103 Daily Worker (London) (July 8, 1932): 4. Mann led the 1889 London Dock Strike and was a founder of the CPGB in 1920, along with Pollitt, general secretary and chair from 1929. Pollitt addressed the Red Aid World Congress (RGASPI 538/1/12). See Kevin Morgan, Harry Pollitt (Manchester, 1993), 60–88.
104 For a related argument, see Gilroy, Black Atlantic, 71, 89.
105 Goldschmidt, 8 Menschen, 10.
106 See “Commemoration of Negro Emancipation, 1834,” for the midnight service of July 12, 1934, held at St. Botolph’s, Bishopsgate: “All Coloured People, British Citizens, are cordially invited.” Rhodes House Library, Brit. Emp. MSS S25 K13/1.
107 RGASPI 539/3/1096: 140. See also, for example, Moord: Redt de jonge negers van Scottsboro (Amsterdam, 1932); “Justice pour les huites negrès innocents de Scottsborough!” Le populaire, June 23, 1932. India overshadowed all other imperial issues addressed by the CPGB.
108 Josef Bilé was a protégé of Münzenberg and a frequent speaker for the LAI; see Abteilung I, A.D. II2, Berlin, 21.1.1932, GehStA 219/19: 45–48; RGASPI 534/3/754: 179b, 186; Katharina Oguntoye, Eine afro-deutsche Geschichte: Zur Lebenssituation von Afrikanern und Afro-Deutschen in Deutschland von 1884 bis 1950 (Berlin, 1997), 67, 98–99.
109 (July 9, 1932): 3, a syndicated piece. Golding was a fellow traveler of the CPGB.
110 See, for example, 8 Negerkinder auf den elektrischen Stuhl, esp. p. 6, which makes pointed use of jazz imagery. For LAI attitudes to the notion of Germany as a colony, see RGASPI 542/1/49: 150, 202; 534/3/546. On the KPD and reparations in the “Third Period,” see “Resolution des ZK der KPD zum Kampf gegen den Young Plan,” October 1929, rpt. in Dokumente und Materialien zur Geschichte der deutschen Arbeiterbewegung, vol. 8 (East Berlin, 1975), 902–10. On German post–World War I Americanism and anti-Americanism, see, for example, Frank Trommler and Joseph McVeigh, eds., America and the Germans: An Assessment of a Three-Hundred-Year History, vol. 2 (Philadelphia, 1985); Mary Nolan, Visions of Modernity: American Business and the Modernization of Germany (New York, 1994); Alf Lüdtke, Inge Marßolek, and Adelheid von Saldern, eds., Amerikanisierung: Traum und Alptraum im Deutschland des 20. Jahrhunderts (Stuttgart, 1996). See also Lawson, “Scottsboro Martyr,” 4: “As they stood there and gave their message, the curtain of ignorance and illusions concerning America was rent asunder and millions of European workers saw the Black Belt! They saw that Uncle Sam was a twentieth-century slave-driver—a modern Simon Legree.”
111 See “Sondernummer Leben und Kampf der schwarzen Rasse,” in Arbeiter-Illustrierte-Zeitung 26 (1931); Die Rote Fahne, August 25, 1932; RGASPI 539/5/835. See the covers of Moord: Redt de jonge negers van Scottsboro, Strijdt met de Roode Hulp voor de Negers van Scottsboro. The International suggested to the American ILD “the creation of postcards incorporating gramophone records with the demands of Negro workers, possibly of relatives of the young Negro workers and prominent personalities in the Scottsboro and Harlan cases.” RGASPI 539/3/1094: 5.
112 See Protokoll des 1. Weltkongresses der Internationalen Roten Hilfe, 191; New York Times, May 27, 1932. On the Continent, black men often spoke for Ada Wright, but never in terms or from a position that could claim the moral authority of a struggling parent; occasionally, they presented their accounts of colonial atrocities in childhood memories. See, for example, notices of meetings in Paris (Le populaire) and Chemnitz (Der Kämpfer, August 20 and 25, 1931). At the Anti-War Congress in Amsterdam, a “Dutch colonial worker” told the story of Scottsboro, although Wright was on the platform (“Über die Scottsboro-Kampagne”). In Britain, these practices pertained, but non-white CPGB members and supporters did speak, including Saklatvala, Padmore, and Ward. Ward also stated that he could not convince blacks to speak on the platforms for Scottsboro. See RGASPI 534/7/50: 138–41. He accused Lovell of keeping black supporters in the background when money-raising was the goal of an event; RGASPI 534/7/50: 93, 93b.
113 Modotti, “Die deutschen Kindergruppen und Scottsboro,” MOPR VIII, 1 (January 1933): 21–22.
114 “Politik im Flüsterton / ein sensationeller Theatercoup / Unfug um eine Negermutter,” Der Angriff (May 1932).
115 RGASPI 534/3/754: 200.
116 On African distribution, and the bans imposed, see RGASPI 534/3/754: 27–29, 171, 186, 197, 200; 534/3/755: 2–3, 53, 68–69, 110, 200. James Maxton, ILP, took the case of bans in Trinidad to the floor of the House of Commons in 1932 but failed to overturn the ban (RGASPI 534/3/755: 100–100b, 169–169b). Maxton and Padmore became close allies in the mid-late 1930s. On Padmore in London, see RGASPI 534/3/754: 9, 9b, 30.
117 RGASPI 534/3/756: 28.
118 RGASPI 534/3/755: 73.
119 RGASPI 534/3/755: 89.
120 RGASPI 534/3/755: 101.
121 See RGASPI 534/3/755: 148–148b, “Ford to Padmore.”
122 RGASPI 534/3/756: 6–7.
123 RGASPI 534/3/756: 29; George Padmore, The Life and Struggles of Negro Toilers (London, 1931).
124 RGASPI 534/3/756: 58.
125 RGASPI 495/100/938: 208. On the Reichstag Fire campaign, see The Brown Book of the Hitler Terror and the Burning of the Reichstag (London, 1933); The Reichstag Fire Trial: The Second Brown Book of the Hitler Terror (London, 1934); Simone Walther, “Dokumente der internationalen Solidaritätsbewegung zum Reichstagsbrandprozess,” Beiträge zur Geschichte der Arbeiterbewegung 30 (1988). Koch, Double Lives, 45–74. Anson Rabinbach (Princeton University) is currently engaged on a study of the Reichstag fire case. In 1934, the mothers of both Georgi Dimitrov and Ernst Torgler, the defendants in the case, were asked to ally themselves with the Scottsboro Mothers campaign and the Mooney case.
126 RGASPI 495/100/938: 208.
127 RGASPI 515/1/2222: 15.
128 See, for example, Weser-Zeitung (Bremen), April 8, 1933; Berliner Tageblatt, April 11, 1933. For the Nazi use of imagery after 1933, see clippings from Der Schwarze Korps (1935) and Neues Volk (1939), NAACP Papers, Anti-Lynching Series, Part 7A, Reel 21, Frames 411–15 and 436–42.
129 See RGASPI 495/100/911; 495/100/658; 539/3/309: 42. On CPGB attitudes toward WASU, see RGASPI 495/100/985. On the League of Coloured Peoples, a respectable, liberal black organization headquartered in London and led by Harold Moody, see Fryer, Staying Power, 326–34, 357–58, and Moody to White, November 4, 1931, and December 12, 1931, NAACP Papers, Scottsboro Series, Microfilm Part 6. On Labour Party proscriptions, see William Gillies, The Communist Solar System, NMLH ID/CI/8/44.
130 On the campaigns around Abyssinia/Ethiopia, see, for example, RGASPI 495/100/985; 495/100/1069; 495/30/1034: 50–51; and Naison, Communists in Harlem, 155–58, 174–76, 195–96, 262. In 1932, Padmore wrote about the need to begin to decentralize the LAI, mentioning comrades who were ready to go to Liberia and Haiti; RGASPI 542/1/54: 80. This plan may have been at variance with Comintern objectives. Padmore’s departure from the Communist movement is a subject of protracted debate among historians and activists. See Hooker, Black Revolutionary, 31–36; Howe, Anti-Colonialism in British Politics, 209–10.
131 On the Relief Committee of Victims of Fascism, see RGASPI 495/100/911. On the CPUSA’s 1935 United Anti-Nazi Conference, the Thälmann campaign, and the aid to concentration camp victims campaign, see, for example, RGASPI 515/1/3754: 48–51, 114–16, 200–07; 515/1/3939: 1–6. On the Popular Front, see, for example, McDermott and Agnew, The Comintern, 120–57; Helen Graham and Paul Preston, eds., The Popular Front in Europe (Basingstoke, 1987); David Blaazer, The Popular Front and the Progressive Tradition (Cambridge, 1992), 147–92; Morgan, Against Facism and War, 33–302, esp. 51–52; and Michael Denning, The Cultural Front: The Laboring of American Culture in the Twentieth Century (London, 1996).
132 Manchester Guardian, August 22, 1932.
133 See, for example, the list of the members of the October 9, 1935, Scottsboro Joint Committee that met in Benjamin Kaplan’s offices in New York, including Robert Minor, Walter White, and Roy Wilkins of the NAACP. Wilkins later became a leader of the modern Civil Rights movement (RGASPI 515/1/3933: 17).
134 See Goodman, Stories, 252; William G. Ross, “The Constitutional Significance of the Scottsboro Case,” Cumberland Law Review 28 (1997); Gerald B. Horne, Powell versus Alabama: The Scottsboro Boys and American Justice (New York, 1997). See, for example, “Report initialled FAK,” on the “Meeting held at the Aubette, Strasbourg, called by the International Red Aid on August 19, 1932,” in which Ada Wright is described as speaking in English with a translator to a crowd of 250 mostly workmen. Engdahl’s speech in German is described at some length. U.S. National Archives, Dept. of Justice Central Files, No. 158260, Sub. 46. On Roosevelt’s attempt to intervene, see Carter, Scottsboro, 392, 392 n. 55, 394, 397 n. 67.
135 Interview material in the possession of Susan Pennybacker. When Wright was interviewed at a London press conference chaired by Reginald Bridgeman, a Daily Herald journalist asked if she “had ever spoken before,” meaning, before her tour. She replied, “No, not even in church. I does the best I can.” “Scottsboro Lads’ Mother Interviewed,” Weekly Worker (July 9, 1932): 7.
136 Interview material in the possession of Susan Pennybacker; “Wright Family Correspondence,” ILD Papers, Schomburg Center, Reel 6, Box 5, 0303.
137 See note 122, above.
138 In 1933, Ward wrote wistfully to William Patterson of the CPUSA: “I don’t get the Liberator no more and I am isolated over here. The ILD here seems to drop the Scottsboro campaign and they are all such a stir in the colonies at the moment and we can’t get a single thing going . . . so comrade where do I come in comrade write us a line and cheer us up. Let’s know about Scottsboro and also Ada Wright.” RGASPI 534/3/895: 122. See also the notice: “United Aid for Peoples of African Descent, Inc., Present Mrs. Ada Wright, Mother of Scottsboro Boys, Andy and Roy Wright. Monday evening, September 20, 1937. St. James Presbyterian Church. Richard B. Moore, Boston Scottsboro Defense Committee, Rev. Wm. Lloyd Imes, Chairman. Be Sure to Hear of the Chain-Gang ‘Sufferings’ of the Scottsboro Boys. Organization Meets Every Monday Night.” Moore Papers, 6 (14), 6/1, September 20, 1937.
By : JAMES A. MILLER, SUSAN D. PENNYBACKER,
and EVE ROSENHAFT