Sojourning for Freedom: Black Women, American Communism, and the Making of Black Left Feminism

Sojourning for Freedom: Black Women, American Communism, and the Making of Black Left Feminism

Erik S. McDuffie

Language: English

Pages: 328

ISBN: 0822350505

Format: PDF / Kindle (mobi) / ePub


Sojourning for Freedom portrays pioneering black women activists from the early twentieth century through the 1970s, focusing on their participation in the U.S. Communist Party (CPUSA) between 1919 and 1956. Erik S. McDuffie considers how women from diverse locales and backgrounds became radicalized, joined the CPUSA, and advocated a pathbreaking politics committed to black liberation, women’s rights, decolonization, economic justice, peace, and international solidarity. McDuffie explores the lives of black left feminists, including the bohemian world traveler Louise Thompson Patterson, who wrote about the “triple exploitation” of race, gender, and class; Esther Cooper Jackson, an Alabama-based civil rights activist who chronicled the experiences of black female domestic workers; and Claudia Jones, the Trinidad-born activist who emerged as one of the Communist Party’s leading theorists of black women’s exploitation. Drawing on more than forty oral histories collected from veteran black women radicals and their family members, McDuffie examines how these women negotiated race, gender, class, sexuality, and politics within the CPUSA. In Sojourning for Freedom, he depicts a community of radical black women activist intellectuals who helped to lay the foundation for a transnational modern black feminism.

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description: “I remember her graying hair and jet-black beady eyes that glistened and twinkled as if she were perpetually enjoying something amusing. No wonder that her home was always full of visitors. She kept a permanent open house, offering food and shelter to whomever knocked on her door.” Her interactions as a parole officer with women inmates shed additional light on her maternalist leadership style. Dumont Huiswoud described Campbell as a “very quiet-spoken lady.” She was able “to assert

during the earlier part of her career. Instead, like most UniA officials, her vision was pro-capitalist. And given the UniA’s embrace of prevailing ideas about women’s and men’s “natural” roles, Garveyites would have wanted little to do with the sexual radicalism popularly associated with the Soviet Union and American Communism. These contrasts reveal the different ideological underpinnings of Garveyite and black Communist women’s feminisms. A pan-African, black nationalist, pro-capitalist

Nazis’ defeat? Perhaps the answer lies somewhere in between. 136 CHAPter FoUr The letter forces us to view Queen Mother Moore’s testimonies about her break from the CPUsA with some skepticism. She neither mentioned the letter later in life nor discussed her attempts to win good favor with Browder by the war’s end. This is not to say that she may not have harbored doubts about Communists’ racial sincerity. Nor does the missive invalidate her frustration with the public and private sexism of

roBert f. WAGner LABor ArChives, BoBst LiBrAry, neW york university. impressed E. D. Nixon, a civil rights and trade union leader based in Montgomery, Alabama, who played a crucial role in leading the Montgomery bus boycott of 1955. During the war, he sat on the snYC’s advisory board and collaborated with McAdory. That she inspired Nixon illustrates the underappreciated importance of black women radicals in laying the groundwork for the civil rights movement.66 Sallye Bell Davis was another

members of the Sojourners were mostly urban, middleclass, secular, well-educated women with a radical, leftist, feminist politics. They were second-class citizens in their own country; but in comparison to black women in general overseas (and in the United States), they were relatively privileged. With links to the secular Communist Party, Sojourners surely would have seemed alien to most black working-class women accustomed to supporting protest movements led by charismatic male ministers. These

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