Hammer and Hoe: Alabama Communists during the Great Depression

Hammer and Hoe: Alabama Communists during the Great Depression

Language: English

Pages: 412

ISBN: 1469625482

Format: PDF / Kindle (mobi) / ePub

A groundbreaking contribution to the history of the "long Civil Rights movement," Hammer and Hoe tells the story of how, during the 1930s and 40s, Communists took on Alabama's repressive, racist police state to fight for economic justice, civil and political rights, and racial equality.

The Alabama Communist Party was made up of working people without a Euro-American radical political tradition: devoutly religious and semiliterate black laborers and sharecroppers, and a handful of whites, including unemployed industrial workers, housewives, youth, and renegade liberals. In this book, Robin D. G. Kelley reveals how the experiences and identities of these people from Alabama's farms, factories, mines, kitchens, and city streets shaped the Party's tactics and unique political culture. The result was a remarkably resilient movement forged in a racist world that had little tolerance for radicals.

After discussing the book's origins and impact in a new preface written for this twenty-fifth-anniversary edition, Kelley reflects on what a militantly antiracist, radical movement in the heart of Dixie might teach contemporary social movements confronting rampant inequality, police violence, mass incarceration, and neoliberalism.

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homes were occasionally tom apart by the poor desperately in need of fuel. Individuals who might not have benefited directly from the stolen wood took advantage of the vacancies by obtaining free rent in exchange for "protecting" some landlord's private property.22 Urban cultivation was the most common survival strategy, as both a source of additional food as well as cash income. During the depression, one Birmingham woman recalls, "everybody had chickens, hogs, and a garden." Urban gardens

advances or previous debts. The most common form of tenancy in the South was sharecropping. Virtually propertyless workers paid with a portion of the crops raised, sharecroppers had little choice but to cultivate cotton-the landowner's choice of staple crops. The landowner supplied the acreage, houses, draft animals, planting materials, and nearly all subsistence necessities, including food and cash advances. These "furnishings" were then deducted from the sharecropper's portion of T H E S H A

traveling through gullies and back roads and filled the courtroom once again. The all-white jury convicted five of the nineteen SCU members indicted for assault with a deadly weapon. Ned Cobb was given tweIve to fifteen years; Clinton Moss and Alf White received ten years each; Judson Simpson was sentenced to a maximum of twelve years; and Sam Moss was given five to six years.61 The confrontation at Reeltown apparently did not discourage the union's recruitment efforts. By June 1933, Al Murphy

asked if "Communism is a menace to American ideals and institutions," less than half of the Southern black businessmen and professionals surveyed said yes. And when confronted with the statement, "Democracy in this country is a capitalistic dictatorship," 75 percent of the Southern respondents felt the assertion was quite accurate. The surveyor concluded from the data that Southern black professionals and businessmen were more radical than their Northern counterp a r t ~Nonetheless, .~~ if the

Reverend W. R. Pettiford founded and presided over Birmingham's first black bank, the Alabama Penny Savings and Loan. And black residents often boasted of their millionaire inventor, Andrew J. Beard, or the affluent funeral director and insurance magnate, C. M. Harris. Black businessmen and religious leaders made their fortunes from a consumer base of working-class blacks, insured peaceful relations by creating alliances with white industrialists, and a handful secured enough "respectability" to

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