Library:Black Bolshevik

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Black Bolshevik is the autobiography of Harry Haywood, the son of former slaves who became a leading member of the Communist Part USA and a pioneering theoretician on the Afro-American struggle.

The author's first-hand accounts of the Chicago race riot of 1919, the Scottsboro Boys' defense, communist work in the South, the Spanish Civil War, the battle against the revisionist betrayal of the Party, and other history-shaping events are must reading for all who are interested in Black history and the working class struggle.

It was dedicated to his family; his third wife, son and daughter.

"To My Family,

Gwen, Haywood, Jr., and Becky"


There have been many friends and comrades who have, directly or indirectly, helped me with the writing of this book. Unfortunately, they are too numerous to all be named here.

There are a number of young people who have helped with the editorial, research and typing tasks and helped the project along through political discussions. Special thanks to Ernie Allen, who gave yeoman help with the early chapters. Others whose assistance was indispensable include Jody and Susan Chandler, Paula Cohen, Stu Dowty and Janet Goldwasser, Paul Elitzik, Pat Fry, Gary Goff, Sherman Miller, John Schwartz, Lyn Wells and Carl Davidson. Others who gave me assistance are Renee Blakkan and Nathalie Garcia.

Over the past years, I have had discussions with several veteran comrades and friends who have helped immeasurably in jogging my memory and filling in the gaps where my own experience was lacking, I extend my warmest appreciation to Jesse Gray, Josh Lawrence, Arthur and Maude (White) Katz, John Killens, Ruth Hamlin, Frances Loman, Al Murphy, Joan Sandler, Delia Page and Jack and Ruth Shulman.

A political autobiography is necessarily shaped by experiences over the years and by comrades who helped and influenced me in the long battle for self-determination and against revisionism. My earliest political debts are to the first core of Black cadres in the CPUSA: Cyril Briggs, Edward Doty, Richard B. Moore and to my brother Otto Hall, all former members of the African Blood Brotherhood.

To Harrison George, outstanding son of the working class, charter member of the CPUSA, former editor of the Daily Worker and the Peoples' World, who gave his all to the Communist movement and died alone, victimized for his “premature" anti- revisionism.

A special tribute to my comrades in the battles against revisionism within the CPUSA and after: Al Lannon, veteran director of the Waterfront Section and member of the Central Committee of the CPUSA; Charles Loman, executive secretary of the Brooklyn Party Organization; Isidore Beagun, executive secretary of the Bronx Party Organization; Allen and Pearl Lawes, Al and Ruth Hamlin, Olga and Victor Agosto. And to my wife, Gwendolyn Midlo Hall, my closest collaborator from 1953 through 1964 in the writing of manuscripts as well as in the Apolitical battles, who has since established her own reputation as historian and essayist.

A tribute to Ed Strong, former communist youth leader and director of the Southern Negro Youth Congress, whose premature death in the mid-fifties cut short his uncompromising stand within the Central Committee for the right of self-determination for the Black nation.

To the editors of Soulbook Magazine, who published my writings in 1965-66 and invited me to Oakland, California, in the spring of 1966 during the formative stages of the Black Panther movement.

To Vincent Harding, who provided me with funds to return to the U.S. from Mexico in 1970 and gave me technical and material assistance to begin this autobiography.

Thanks to John Henrik Clarke and Francisco and Elizabeth Cattlett de Mora for their enthusiasm and moral support.

To Robert Warner, Director of the Michigan Historical Collections, for his help and his sensitivity to the need to collect and preserve historically relevant materials from the Black movement in the United States.


On July 28, 1919,1 literally stepped into a battle that was to last the rest of my life. Exactly three months after mustering out of the Army, I found myself in the midst of one of the bloodiest race riots in U.S. history. It was certainly a most dramatic return to the realities of American democracy.

It came to me then that I had been fighting the wrong war. The Germans weren’t the enemy -the enemy was right here at home. These ideas had been developing ever since I landed home in April, and a lot of other Black veterans were having the same thoughts.

I had a job as a waiter on the Michigan Central Railroad at the time. In July, I was working the Wolverine, the crack Michigan Central train between Chicago and New York. We would serve lunch and dinner on the run out of Chicago to St. Thomas, Canada, where the dining car was cut off the train. The next morning our cars would be attached to the Chicago-bound train and we would serve breakfast and lunch into Chicago.

On July 27, the Wolverine left on a regular run to St. Thomas. Passing through Detroit, we heard news that a race riot had broken out in Chicago. The situation had been tense for some time. Several members of the crew, all of them Black, had bought revolvers and ammunition the previous week when on a special to Battle Creek, Michigan. Thus, when we returned to Chicago at about 2:00 P.M. the next day (July 28). we were apprehensive about what awaited us.

The whole dining car crew, six waiters and four cooks, got off at the Twelfth Street Station in Chicago. Usually we would stay on the car while it backed out to the yards, but the station seemed a better route now. We were all tense as we passed through the station on the way to the elevated which would take us to the Southside and home. Suddenly a white trainman accosted us. “Hey, you guys going out to the Southside?”

“Yeah, so what?” I said, immediately on the alert, thinking he might start something.

“If I were you I wouldn’t go by the avenue” He meant Michigan Avenue which was right in front of the station.


“There’s a big race riot going on out there, and already this morning a couple of colored soldiers were killed coming in unsuspectingly. If I were you I’d keep off the street, and go right out those tracks by the lake.”

We took the trainman’s advice, thanked him, and turned toward the tracks. It would be much slower walking home, but if he were right, it would be safer. As we turned down the tracks toward the Southside of the city, towards the Black ghetto, I thought of what I had just been through in Europe and what now lay before me in America.

On one side of us lay the summer warmness of Lake Michigan. On the other was Chicago, a huge and still growing industrial center of the nation, bursting at its seams; brawling, sprawling Chicago, “hog butcher for the nation” as Carl Sandburg had called it

As we walked, I remembered the war. On returning from Europe, I had felt good to be alive. I was glad to be back with my family—Mom, Pop and my sister. At twenty-one, my life lay before me. What should I do? The only trade I had learned was waiting tables. I hadn’t even finished the eighth grade. Perhaps I should go back to France, live there and become a French citizen? After all, I hadn’t seen any Jim Crow there.

Had race prejudice in the U.S. lessened? I knew better. Conditions in the States had not changed, but we Blacks had. We were determined not to take it anymore. But what was I walking into?

Southside Chicago, the Black ghetto, was like a besieged city. Whole sections of it were in ruins. Buildings burned and the air was heavy with smoke, reminiscent of the holocaust from which I had recently returned.

Our small band, huddled like a bunch of raw recruits under machine gun fire, turned up Twenty-sixth Street and then into the heart of the ghetto. At Thirty-fifth and Indiana, we split up to go our various ways; I headed for home at Forty-second Place and Bowen. None of us returned to work until the riot was over, more than a week later.

The battle at home was just as real as the battle in France had been. As I recall, there was full-scale street fighting between Black and white. Blacks were snatched from streetcars and beaten or killed; pitched battles were fought in ghetto streets; hoodlums roamed the neighborhood, shooting at random. Blacks fought hack.

As I saw it at the time, Chicago was two cities. The one was the Chamber of Commerce’s city of the “American Miracle,” the Chicago of the 1893 World Columbian Exposition. It was the new industrial city which had grown in fifty years from a frontier town to become the second largest city in the country.

The other, the Black community, had been part of Chicago almost from the time the city was founded. Jean Baptiste Pointe DuSable, a Black trapper from French Canada, was the first settler. Later came fugitive slaves, and after the Civil War- more Blacks, fleeing from post-Reconstruction terror, taking jobs as domestics and personal servants.

The large increase was in the late 1880s through World War 1, as industry in the city expanded and as Blacks streamed north following the promise of jobs, housing and an end to Jim Crow lynching. The Illinois Central tracks ran straight through the deep South from Chicago to New Orleans, and the Panama Limited made the run every day.

Those that took the train north didn’t find a promised land. They found jobs and housing, all right, but they had to compete with the thousands of recent immigrants from Europe who were also drawn to the jobs in the packing houses, stockyards and steel mills.

The promise of an end to Jim Crow was nowhere fulfilled. In those days, the beaches on Lake Michigan were segregated. Most were reserved for whites only. The Twenty-sixth Street Beach, close to the Black community, was open to Blacks—but only as long as they stayed on their own side.

The riot had started at this beach, which was then jammed with a late July crowd. Eugene Williams, a seventeen-year-old Black youth, was killed while swimming off the white side of the beach. The Black community was immediately alive with accounts of what had happened—that he had been murdered while swimming., that a group of whites had thrown rocks at him and killed him, and that the policeman on duty at the beach had refused to make any arrests.

This incident was the spark that ignited the flames of racial animosity which had been smoldering for months. Fighting between Blacks and whites broke out on the Twenty-sixth Street beach after Williams’s death. It soon spread beyond the beach and lasted over six days. Before it was over, thirty-eight people—Black and white—were dead, 537 injured and over 1,000 homeless.

The memory of this mass rebellion is still very sharp in my mind. It was the great turning point in my life, and I have dedicated myself to the struggle against capitalism ever since. In the following pages of my autobiography, I have attempted to trace the development of that struggle in the hopes that today’s youth can learn from both our successes and failures. lt is for the youth and the bright future of a socialist USA that this book has been written.