Forgotten Revolutionaries

From The Washington Post:

Dixie_3  DEFYING DIXIE: The Radical Roots of Civil Rights, 1919-1950 By Glenda Elizabeth Gilmore.

The real and infinitely more complicated history of the modern civil rights struggle “begins at the radical edges of a human rights movement after World War I, with communists who promoted and practiced racial equality and considered the South crucial to their success in elevating labor and overthrowing the capitalist system. They were joined in the late 1930s by a radical left to form a southern Popular Front that sought to overturn Jim Crow, elevate the working class, and promote civil rights and civil liberties. During and after World War II a growing number of grassroots activists protested directly against white supremacy and imagined it poised to fall of its own weight. They gave it a shove.”

In telling this story, Gilmore broadens the scope of Southern and civil rights history to include individuals and organizations operating well beyond the Mason-Dixon line. Nationalizing and internationalizing the saga, she reminds us that “the South could remain the South only by chasing out some of its brightest minds and most bountiful spirits, generation after generation. Many of those who left did so, directly or indirectly, because they opposed white supremacy. Counting them back into southern history reveals an insurgent South and shows some Southerners to be a revolutionary lot that fought longer and harder than anyone else to defeat Dixie.”

No brief review can do justice to the full range of historical characters and events that dominate the pages of Defying Dixie. But one example may give some sense of the exotic radicalism that prevailed prior to the classic civil rights struggle of the 1950s and ’60s. Gilmore begins the book with the story of Lovett Fort-Whiteman, the first African American to join the Communist Party.

More here.