Skip to content

Hammer and Hoe: Alabama Communists During the Great Depression

Tuesday, January 6, 2009

Hammer and HoeI just checked out Hammer and Hoe: Alabama Communists During the Great Depression from the library.  I got interested in the book after Chip Smith used it as a source for his analysis of past multi-racial and anti-racist organizing and how it can be done again today.  I’m not gonna read the whole book (not yet anyway) as I have two books I need to read and review for this blog before school starts up again.  But I am gonna skim it and catch up on some untouched history.  The book is by Robin D. G. Kelley and we should all be grateful for this scholar for illuminating an untold, and very harrowing, story of race, class, and organizing.  I’ll just leave you guys with the description of the book on the front flap:

Between 1929 and 1941, the Communist Party organized and led a radical, militantly antiracist movement in Alabama-the centor of Party activity in the Depression South.  Hammer and Hoe documents the efforts of the Alabama Communist Party and its allies to secure racial, economic, and political reforms.  Sensitive to the complexities of gender race, culture, and class without compromising the political narrative, Robin Kelley here illuminates one of the most unique and least understood radical movements in American history.

The Alabama Communist Party was built from scratch by working people who had no Euro-American radical political tradition.  It was composed largely of poor blacks, most of whom were semiliterate and devoutly religious, but it also attracted a handful of whites, including unemployed industrial workers, iconoclastic youth, and renegade liberals.  Kelley shows that the cultural identities of these people from Alabama’s farms, factories, mines, kitchens, and city streets shaped the development of the Party.  The result was a remarkably resilient movement forged in a racist world that had little tolerance for radicals.  In the South race pervaded virtually every aspect of Communist activity.  And because the Party’s call for voting rights, racial equality, equal wages for women, and land for landless farmers represented a fundamental challenge to the society and economy of the South, it is not surprising that Party organizers faced a constant wave of violence.

Kelley’s analysis ranges broadly, examining such topics as the Party’s challenge to black middle-class leadership; the social, ideological, and cultural roots of black working-class radicalism; Communist efforts to build alliances with Southern liberals; and the emergence of a left-wing, interracial youth movement.  He closes with a discussion of the Alabama Communist Party’s demise and its legacy for future civil rights activism.

 Robin D. G. Kelley is professor of American Studies and Ethnicity and History  and the University of Southern California.  His research topics have ranged widely, covering the history of black radical movements in the U.S., the African Diaspora, and Africa (notably South Africa).  Recently his has focused on culture and the politics of art, primarily with regard to the history of jazz and related musical forms.

Robin D. G. Kelley is professor of American Studies and Ethnicity and History and the University of Southern California. His research topics have ranged widely, covering the history of black radical movements in the U.S., the African Diaspora, and Africa (notably South Africa). Recently his has focused on culture and the politics of art, primarily with regard to the history of jazz and related musical forms.

Advertisements

Comments are closed.

%d bloggers like this: