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Death Blow to Jim Crow: The National Negro Congress and the Rise of Militant Civil Rights: The National Negro Congress and the Rise of Militant Civil Rights

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During the Great Depression, black intellectuals, labor organizers, and artists formed the National Negro Congress (NNC) to demand a "second emancipation" in America. Over the next decade, the NNC and its offshoot, the Southern Negro Youth Congress, sought to coordinate and catalyze local antiracist activism into a national movement to undermine the Jim Crow system of raci During the Great Depression, black intellectuals, labor organizers, and artists formed the National Negro Congress (NNC) to demand a "second emancipation" in America. Over the next decade, the NNC and its offshoot, the Southern Negro Youth Congress, sought to coordinate and catalyze local antiracist activism into a national movement to undermine the Jim Crow system of racial and economic exploitation. In this pioneering study, Erik S. Gellman shows how the NNC agitated for the first-class citizenship of African Americans and all members of the working class, establishing civil rights as necessary for reinvigorating American democracy. Much more than just a precursor to the 1960s civil rights movement, this activism created the most militant interracial freedom movement since Reconstruction, one that sought to empower the American labor movement to make demands on industrialists, white supremacists, and the state as never before. By focusing on the complex alliances between unions, civic groups, and the Communist Party in five geographic regions, Gellman explains how the NNC and its allies developed and implemented creative grassroots strategies to weaken Jim Crow, if not deal it the "death blow" they sought.


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During the Great Depression, black intellectuals, labor organizers, and artists formed the National Negro Congress (NNC) to demand a "second emancipation" in America. Over the next decade, the NNC and its offshoot, the Southern Negro Youth Congress, sought to coordinate and catalyze local antiracist activism into a national movement to undermine the Jim Crow system of raci During the Great Depression, black intellectuals, labor organizers, and artists formed the National Negro Congress (NNC) to demand a "second emancipation" in America. Over the next decade, the NNC and its offshoot, the Southern Negro Youth Congress, sought to coordinate and catalyze local antiracist activism into a national movement to undermine the Jim Crow system of racial and economic exploitation. In this pioneering study, Erik S. Gellman shows how the NNC agitated for the first-class citizenship of African Americans and all members of the working class, establishing civil rights as necessary for reinvigorating American democracy. Much more than just a precursor to the 1960s civil rights movement, this activism created the most militant interracial freedom movement since Reconstruction, one that sought to empower the American labor movement to make demands on industrialists, white supremacists, and the state as never before. By focusing on the complex alliances between unions, civic groups, and the Communist Party in five geographic regions, Gellman explains how the NNC and its allies developed and implemented creative grassroots strategies to weaken Jim Crow, if not deal it the "death blow" they sought.

38 review for Death Blow to Jim Crow: The National Negro Congress and the Rise of Militant Civil Rights: The National Negro Congress and the Rise of Militant Civil Rights

  1. 5 out of 5

    Andrea

    An in depth and very well researched study of the National Negro Congress (NNC) -- a key organization in understanding American history yet this is the first book attempting to give its detailed history that intersected with so much radical organizing of its time. As Gellman writes: By focusing on the NNC, I put a black-led network at the center of a narrative usually dominated by white unionists, New Dealers, Communists, and other antifascist leaders (2). And it needed to be done. As did the rec An in depth and very well researched study of the National Negro Congress (NNC) -- a key organization in understanding American history yet this is the first book attempting to give its detailed history that intersected with so much radical organizing of its time. As Gellman writes: By focusing on the NNC, I put a black-led network at the center of a narrative usually dominated by white unionists, New Dealers, Communists, and other antifascist leaders (2). And it needed to be done. As did the recovering of this era of militant organizing before the full onset of the more widely studied Civil Rights movement. The NNC operated along with its sister organization and often ally the Southern Negro Youth Congress (SYNC) between 1936 and 1947. it: breached lines of middle-class respectability by persuading African American communities to embrace boycotts, strikes, and marches. These tactics required members to use the streets as spaces of negotiation, breaking from other black leaders who met privately with welfare capitalists they hoped to persuade. Its members anticipated that these public tactics would foster new forms of community among African Americans. Then, from a position of power generated through unity, the NNC hoped to ally blacks with labor campaigns for economic justice. This process allowed NNC leaders to avoid what they saw as an either/or trap of integration or nationalism. The NNC's activist-intellectuals agreed that race in America was less a moral issue than a material one and less a southern problem than a national one. In short, the NNC saw the working class as having the potential power to force U.S. institutions to protect human rights above property rights. This conception of industrial democracy was the NNC's American Creed (5). Some amazing stuff there, and so much to be put into play in relation to what followed it, which arguably did see race as a moral issue more than a material one. At least initially. There was overlap between NNC and the Communist Party which can explain some of this material grounding, but not much detail on these philosophical and theoretical underpinnings and how they worked out in practice. They are seen primarily as they appeared in the four major efforts that are studied here, along with the internal and external politics and red-baiting that they faced. A good place to start, but as Gellman says, this may be the first major study but should not be the last. African Americans had few large-scale organizations in the early 30s. The NAACP was on the edge of bankruptcy. The Brotherhood of Sleeping Car Porters (BCSP) led by A. Phillip Randolph was one of the few active, along with groups forming around the CP's organizing efforts in urban Black communities under their popular front strategy. In 1935 a conference at Howard University was called bringing together DuBois, Randolph, and other professors, government officials, and members of the Socialist and Communist Party. They identified a need to place race and class at the forefront of the African-American movement. Out of this the NNC was born to operate nationally, to focus on the black working classes. It held its inaugural national conference in Chicago in 1936. The book looks at four key struggles: Organizing steel and Packing-workers in Chicago and African-American relationship within and with the CIO (an amazing chapter of the labor movement full of struggles for a Black Magna Carta and names that should be known far and wide but are not and this is where I had to stop reading in spite of myself); youth organizing in Richmond, VA around the tobacco plants; organizing in D.C. to stop lynching and police brutality, and the NNC's split; New York, where the NNC relocated their national office in 1942; and then NNC focus moving back to the South as directed by DuBois in 1946 -- South Carolina. Post WWII, entering the era of severe repression and red-baiting, the coalition of unions, liberals, and radicals could not hold. The unions made their pacts with the bosses and the government, turning their backs on more militant demands, interracialism, community unionism. Black leaders were marginalized and repudiated. Gellman writes: Thus, the Cold War not only destroyed the NNC as an organization but also scattered its activists and made even discussing its past achievements politically dangerous. Scholarship seems to have fallen in line with this silence, but taht's hardly surprising. This is a wonderful way to start breaking it...

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