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1. 1 Tyler Michael Howard March 20, 2013 HIST 475 Dr. Hoefferle Communism in the Charlotte Metro Area The issue of Communism has always been one of great debate. Many…
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  • 1. 1 Tyler Michael Howard March 20, 2013 HIST 475 Dr. Hoefferle Communism in the Charlotte Metro Area The issue of Communism has always been one of great debate. Many considered Communism to be a threat to American capitalism while others seen Communism as a savior for equality and blue collared workers. This research project looks at the history of the North Carolina Communist Party in the Charlotte Metro area. According to secondary sources wrote on the history of the American Communist Party (Draper, Klehr, Taylor) The American Communist Party was one of the most radical organizations of its time and North Carolina was a leader for Communism spreading into the Southern United States. Looking at Communist supported newspapers (Southern Worker, Workers Age, Daily Worker, and The Militant) as well as local Anti-Communist views (The Charlotte Observer) show there was a prevalent Communist influence in Charlotte. Charlotte was a hotbed of Communist activity for a brief period in the 1930’s into the early 1940’s, but it quickly declined because of anticommunist pressure and internal disagreements. Communism has been entrenched in the United States for almost a century. According to Theodore Draper, a historian and author breaks down the early workings of American Communism in the book The Roots of American Communism. The American Communist Party got its start in the early 1920s from the October Revolution that occurred in Russia in 1917.1 The 1 Theodore Draper, The Roots of American Communism. (New York, 1957) pgs. 135-138
  • 2. 2 American Communist Party originated in New York, but during the late 1920s and early 1930s, it began to move into the Southern half of the United States.2 Draper focuses on the American Communist Party’s relationship to the Soviet Union. The Comintern held documents, letters, and other sources of information tying CPSU and CPUSA together which were held in Russia for storage. Draper goes into great detail over the propaganda that the American Communist Party distributed to the public. The Daily Worker was the primary source of media to the public for party information. The newspaper, based in New York publicized information about the American Communist Party on a national level. The Daily Worker also reached out on a regional level to Northern as well as Southern States, including Charlotte and Monroe, North Carolina. Draper goes into detail about the secrecy of the CPUSA as well as integration of races in the South.3 Integrating the white working class with African American sharecroppers was a key for the American Communist Party to achieve full effectiveness in the South. This North Carolina was selected as one of the prominent southern states for Communism. North Carolina was the capital of the American textile industry with the Piedmont area as its core.4 Charlotte was not only the biggest metropolitan city in the state and was located in the center of the state making it easily accessible through travel. Draper does well in examining the Communist Party on a national level and explains the relationship of the American Communist Party with the Soviet Union from a top down approach. Draper’s book does little to revel about the Communist Party within Charlotte, North Carolina. Harvey Klehr professor of history at Emory University takes a look at what the purpose was of the American Communist Party and the struggles they went through in establishing operations on American soil during the 1940s and 1950s. Klehr explains the objectives of the 2 Theodore Draper, The Roots of American Communism. (New York, 1957) pgs. 153-174 3 Theodore Draper, The Roots of American Communism. (New York, 1957) pgs. 207-213 4 Gregory S. Taylor, The History of the North Carolina Communist Party. (University of South Carolina Press, 2009)
  • 3. 3 CPUSA and what they aimed to accomplish on a local, regional, and national scale. In his research Klehr sheds light onto the mysterious workings of American Communism and underground labor organizing. The American Communist Party is forced to go underground due to investigations by the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) and to the ongoing effects of the Cold War.5 Support for the party all but disappeared with the coming of the Cold War and a spike in American Patriotism. Communism was seen as sleeping with the enemy by many Americans because of the ongoing Cold War conflict. Klehr focuses on documents shared between the CPUSA and CPSU from the newly opened Comintern in Moscow.6 These documents show that the Soviet Union guided the American Communist Party in much of their decision making. While Klehr details Communist underground activity throughout the United States, Klehr does not focus regionally on North Carolina or go into detail on Communism in Charlotte. William Foster was the National Chairman of the American Communist Party following WWII in 1946.7 He was tried for trying to overthrow the United States Government because of his association with the American Communist Party from 1922 to 1923. He is portrayed in the trial by the prosecution as a radical training the working class of America to hate their employers. Foster is seen as planning a Red Revolution similar to that of Vladimir Lenin in the October Revolution in Russia. What this trial shows is a consensus of how the American Communist Party is viewed; a radical leftist group seeking a violent overthrow of the American Government. Capitalism versus Communism was on the main stage. Foster can be seen as the last figurehead for the American Communist Party. He attempted to fully integrate the South. William Z. Foster was loved and hated by many of his comrades. Junius Scales, who was a 5 Harvey Klehr, The Secret World of American Communism. (New York, 1995) pgs. 195-198 6 Harvey Klehr, The Secret World of American Communism. (New York, 1995) pgs 207-212 7 Minor, Robert. "The Trial of William Z. Foster." The Liberator, sec. v.6 no.4, April 1923.
  • 4. 4 prominent North Carolina Communist Party member quotes Foster in an interview saying “he was twice as dangerous as the textbook Communist.”8 The trial was very similar to the trial of Junius Scales in Charlotte in the fact that the verdict was overwhelmingly against the Communists. This shows a connection between national views and Charlotte views of Anti- Communism. Alex Bittleman was a leading American Communist Party member acting under William Foster. In his pamphlet The Party and the People’s Front, Bittelman outlines what he believes will help build the Party into an effective leader for the working class. In the pamphlet, Bittelman not only looks at Capitalism as an enemy, but more specifically the Republican Party. Democrats have begun to take a more progressive approach with the response to WWII. Browder and Bittelman share similar views on the direction of the party. Both believe in a level of cooperation with the government in regards to the Fascists and war; however, the principles of the party remained potent.9 Bittelman acted under the Foster administration but sought to abide by Browder’s ideologies. Foster and Browder had different paths for American Communism. This shows the beginnings of party divisions. Bittelman talks of party movement and mass growth in conjunction with the spread of Communism by way of propaganda and cooperation with other Progressive parties.10 In regards to North Carolina, Communists followed the approach laid out by Bittleman. Communists aligned themselves with American Federation of Labor (A.F.L), Congress of Industrial Workers (C.I.O), and National Textile Workers Union (N.T.W.U) to gain progressive support and appeal to the factory workers concentrated in the state. Meetings with these 8 Scales Junius, interview by Robert Kortstad, "Junius Scales Interview," Southern Oral History Collection, Record, May 2, 1987:1-7 9 Bittleman, Alex, The Party and the Peoples Front, (1937) 10 Bittleman, Alex, The Party and the Peoples Front, (1937)
  • 5. 5 organizations occurred in Charlotte with the NTWU having headquarters based out of Charlotte. The divisions in party direction became apparent with the close of WWII. John Gates was a renowned American Communist Journalist and former editor of The Daily Worker. In his pamphlet titled On Guard Against Browderism Titoism Trotskyism, Gates talks about the influence of former American Communist Party chairmen Earl Browder had went against the good of the party and became tied to American imperialism. “Browderism” had begun to affect other Communist Party members throughout the states including in Charlotte according to Gates. Browder had begun to try and separate the CPUSA away from the Soviet Union. Browder had labeled Stalin a danger to Communism and the goals of a Communist social world. Gates stated that Browder goes as far as blaming the Korean conflict and Chinese aggression on Stalin and the Soviet influence. 11 Gates sites that Browder had gone against all that Communism stands for and had attempted to lead the party into a merger with the imperialistic capitalist powers. In the pamphlet, Gates goes on to say that Browder has undermined his fellow comrades in acting as a “stool-pigeon”12 for the capitalists on Wall Street in trials such as Frederick vs. Field. There is talk of the faction between Earl Browder and his eventual successor William Z. Foster. Browder proclaimed that Foster was allegedly put into power as National Party Chairman by European Communist leaders. Gates stated that it was in the full interest of the American Communist Party and its members. A key issue that is brought up once again is the issue of “The Negro Question”13. This issue is of upmost importance to Charlotte because it raises questions of success of the CPUSA in North Carolina and the Southern United States. Gates says Browder avoids the issue of integration within the Party. Gates goes on to describe how Browder believes that African Americans have “integrated into 11 Gates, John. On Guard against Browderism Titoism Trotskyism. (1951) 12 Gates, John. On Guard against Browderism Titoism Trotskyism. (1951) pg.7 13 Gates, John. On Guard against Browderism Titoism Trotskyism. (1951) pg. 8
  • 6. 6 American life and have been freed of feudal survival.”14 Gates points toward the American South and cites segregation, lower wages, and uneven land distribution as a counter to Browder’s views. Seeing from the letters to the editor in The Southern Worker, this conclusion by Gates can be seen as fact. The pamphlet backs up the argument that the divisions amongst the members of the CPUSA led to its eventual demise. The Party members were divided on the issues of integration and relation to the Soviet Union. Gates cites that there is disloyalty amongst the comrades without naming names other than Earl Browder. This pamphlet describes the issues that occurred in Charlotte during the late 1940s and into the 1950s. Scales makes note of several of these issues in his interview with Kortstad. The question of integrating is one that burdened the Communists in Charlotte. The recruitment of African Americans was seen to be necessary for the growth of the party; however, their role in the party was one of question. Other historians have written histories of the American Communist Party in specific southern states. For example, Robin Kelley, a historian at UCLA focuses on Communism in the state of Alabama. Kelley’s book Hammer and Hoe: Alabama Communists During the Great Depression takes a look at Communism within the state of Alabama. Alabama for much of the 20th century was a center of racial segregation, but the Communists were able to use segregation as a tool to recruit many African Americans into the party.15 There was also a large immigrant population within the state because of the need of sharecroppers for farming. The reason that the Communists in Alabama were able to succeed was because of their ability to take action and protest. Communists were able to unite their goals with many of the poor whites as well as oppressed blacks and form strong coalitions to take on capitalist oppression as well the issue of 14 Gates, John. On Guard against Browderism Titoism Trotskyism. (1951) pgs. 14-15 15 Kelley, Robin D. G. Hammer and Hoe: Alabama Communists During the Great Depression. University of North Carolina Press, 1990.
  • 7. 7 race.16 The party was able to establish relationships with many left-wing radical liberals as well as the younger population of Alabama.17 Being able to unite under one common goal was rare for the CPUSA; especially being able to align liberal, whites, and blacks all together. This could be considered to be one of the shining moments of the American Communist Party’s success in the Deep South. Communists in Charlotte used many of the same tactics that were employed to recruiting African Americans into the party. While Charlotte was not as racially segregated as Alabama, Charlotte did face many of the same obstacles and stiff opposition from Anti- Communists.18 In the essay Mobilizing the Reserve Army: The Communist Party and the Unemployed in Atlanta, 1929–1934, historian James Lorence goes into detail about the Communist Party in Atlanta during the Great Depression and through the 1940s. Lorence emphasizes integrating blacks and whites together. The focus of the Communist Party was the tenants and shantytowns of Atlanta being able to unite a force of impoverished blacks together with poor whites working in the factories.19 The CPUSA believed that if they were able to integrate the two together, then they would have enough power to take over in the city. The Communists were unable to attain these goals because of the inability to fight through the issue of segregation with many of the white factory workers as well as other pressing issues occurring in different areas of the United States. The issue of white chauvinism was apparent in Atlanta with fear of white workers being replaced by blacks for cheaper wages. 16 Kelley, Robin D. G. Hammer and Hoe: Alabama Communists During the Great Depression. University of North Carolina Press, 1990. 17 Kelley, Robin D. G. Hammer and Hoe: Alabama Communists During the Great Depression. University of North Carolina Press, 1990. 18 Gregory S. Taylor, The History of the North Carolina Communist Party. (University of South Carolina Press, 2009) 19 James J. Lorence, Radicalism in the South Since Reconstruction: Mobilizing the Reserve Army: Communist Party and the Unemployed in Atlanta, 1929.” (New York, 2006)pgs 50-51
  • 8. 8 The cities of Charlotte and Atlanta were two major foundations from incorporating the Communist Party into the South. Both cities were major industrial hubs for factory workers and textile production. Communists in North Carolina worked in conjunction with Atlanta regarding recruiting, unemployment, and the trial of Angelo Herndon.20 Prominent NCCP members such as Paul Crouch were involved in working on the Angel Herndon trial. Fighting for the freedom and equality of workers was what the Communist sought to achieve in the Angel Herndon trial and to show that Herndon was falsely convicted by the capitalist system. Charlotte experienced the same obstacles that Atlanta did with stiff Anti-Communist opposition and the issue of segregation. Gregory Taylor, a professor of history at Chowan University focuses on the regional North Carolina Communist Party in his book The History of the North Carolina Communist Party.21 Taylor goes into great detail of how the North Carolina Communist Party (NCCP) operated. His book specifically looks at the reasons why the American Communist Party wanted to establish itself in the state of North Carolina. Gregory includes the Loray Mill Strike, the Kissing Case, as well as other cases dealing with labor strikes.22 Taylor explains how the process that the North Carolina Communist Party tried to unite both the white and black working class behind labor unions and were quite successful in Charlotte and Winston Salem, North Carolina.23 Both cities laid the fundamental foundation for spreading Communism into the Southern United States. 20 James J. Lorence, Radicalism in the South Since Reconstruction: Mobilizing the Reserve Army: Communist Party and the Unemployed in Atlanta, 1929.” (New York, 2006) 21 Gregory S. Taylor, The History of the North Carolina Communist Party. (University of South Carolina Press, 2009) 22 Gregory S. Taylor, The History of the North Carolina Communist Party. (University of South Carolina Press, 2009) pgs. 66-69 23 Gregory S. Taylor, The History of the North Carolina Communist Party. (University of South Carolina Press, 2009) pgs. 49-52
  • 9. 9 Taylor goes into great detail about the NCCP’s inability to attract the workers of North Carolina. The NCCP reached out to workers who were underpaid and overworked by their superiors. Charlotte was home to many court cases involving Communist Party members. This gave notoriety to the region. Court cases in the Charlotte area show that the Communist defense teams were more concerned with spreading the ideology of the party than defending accused members.24 Taylor argues that the issue of religion was one of the major drawbacks for the NCCP as well as the CPUSA as a whole. Many Communists claimed to be atheist and this did25 not go over well with much of the population of the South, who were predominantly Southern Baptist. Charlotte was and still is a deeply Christian conservative city. The NCCP, like the CPUSA, also had contact with the Soviet Union. North Carolina Communists modeled themselves after the CPSU; but also wanted some form of individuality. For example, the NCCP protested lynching and Jim Crow Laws, and demanded equal representation for whites, blacks, and other minorities such as women.26 Taylor’s book shows the impact of Communism not only within North Carolina, but also major metropolitan cities within the state. While Taylor does mention Charlotte as a base for activity by the NCCP, he does not devote great detail into the city of Charlotte, but rather the NCCP and its effects on the state of North Carolina as a whole. Newspapers and pamphlets were primary sources of Communist Party information. The Southern Worker is a newspaper that was published by the CPUSA for the Southeastern United States published from 1930 up into 1938. The Southern Worker can be seen by many as the most effective tool used by the American Communist Party in its quest to reach out to the public 24 Gregory S. Taylor, The History of the North Carolina Communist Party. (University of South Carolina Press, 2009) pgs 42-48 25 Gregory S. Taylor, The History of the North Carolina Communist Party. (University of South Carolina Press, 2009) pgs 50-55 26 Gregory S. Taylor, The History of the North Carolina Communist Party. (University of South Carolina Press, 2009) pgs.125-132
  • 10. 10 forum of the South. One of the main focuses of The Southern Worker was to spread the Communist ideology as well as make negative comments on the spread of American capitalism.27 In reference to North Carolina, the paper focused on the trial of the Loray Mills Strike in 1929 up into the 1930. The trial took place in Charlotte which brought added publicity to the region. The Southern Worker also noted events that involved the Communist Party in the Charlotte area. For example the National Textile Workers Union coming to hold a meeting on 14th street in North Charlotte in 1931.28 The CPUSA believed that it was paramount for individuals to follow the principles of Communism in order to be a “textbook Communist.”29 This quote was used by Junius Scales, who was the head regional organizer in the Charlotte Metro area to describe prominent members such William Foster. With Scales being a leader of the North Carolina Communist Party disagreements were held between the National CPUSA and organ
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