Mary Stanton's Red, Black, White: The Alabama Communist Party, 1930–1950
(University of Georgia Press, 2019) is the first narrative history of the American communist movement in the South since Robin D. G. Kelley's groundbreaking Hammer and Hoe
and the first to explore its key figures and actions beyond the 1930s. Written from the perspective of the district 17 (CPUSA) Reds who worked primarily in Alabama, it acquaints a new generation with the impact of the Great Depression on postwar black and white, young and old, urban and rural Americans.
After the Scottsboro story broke on March 25, 1931, it was open season for old-fashioned lynchings, legal (courtroom) lynchings, and mob murder. In Alabama alone, twenty black men were known to have been murdered, and countless others, women included, were beaten, disabled, jailed, “disappeared,” or had their lives otherwise ruined between March 1931 and September 1935. In this collective biography, Mary Stanton―a noted chronicler of the left and of social justice movements in the South―explores the resources available to Depression-era Reds before the advent of the New Deal or the modern civil rights movement. What emerges from this narrative is a meaningful criterion by which to evaluate the Reds’ accomplishments.
Through seven cases of the CPUSA (district 17) activity in the South, Stanton covers tortured notions of loyalty and betrayal, the cult of white southern womanhood, Christianity in all its iterations, and the scapegoating of African Americans, Jews, and communists. Yet this still is a story of how these groups fought back, and fought together, for social justice and change in a fractured region.
Beth A. English is director of the Liechtenstein Institute’s Project on Gender in the Global Community at Princeton University. She also is a past president of the Southern Labor History Association.