In keeping with the Communist Party USA’s efforts to unionize the South, Rosa Parks and others were sent to the Highlander Folk School for training in the mid-1950s where she met Michael King, later known as M.L. King. King’s mass march organizer was communist Bayard Rustin. By the 1960s, the Democratic party in the US had fully absorbed the character and platform of the CPUSA; in 1964 Lyndon Johnson awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom to collectivist A. Philip Randolph. Bernhard Thuersam
Origins of the Civil Rights Movement: Setting the Example for the NAACP
“In line with the creation of an interracial organization in the North, the [communist] Party set out to eliminate all racial barriers and to dispel any notion of racism within its own ranks. One way of demonstrating this commitment was by elevating blacks to positions of leadership. Significant in this sense was the nomination of James W. Ford as vice-presidential candidate on the Communist ticket in 1932.
The national secretary of the ILD, William L. Patterson and one of the national leaders of the Young Communist League, Henry Winston, were also black, as were a growing number of Party officials.
By 1930 the Party had also begun to comply with the [Communist International’s] directive concerning expansion of organizational efforts in the [American] South. In the face of violence and intimidation the Party set out to organize Southern blacks and whites.
[The Party’s main] demands included jobs or relief for the unemployed regardless of race and sex; houses for the homeless; a moratorium on rents for the unemployed; a seven hour day, five day work week . . . and the right to organize.
Nothing helped the Communist party break out of its isolation and to gain sympathy and support from within the black community nationwide than its role in the Scottsboro case. Throughout the early years of the depression, the Party was involved in a number of legal cases in defense of blacks.
In the Spring of 1931 nine young black men, aged 13 to 21, were charged with having raped two white women on a freight train in northern Alabama. After a speedy trial . . . eight were sentenced to die in the electric chair.
Upon learning of the conviction, the Party acting through the ILD [International Labor Defense], moved in. The Communist party and the ILD were able to secure the support of most of the defendants’ parents and, after a brief fight with the NAACP, to take and retain control of the defense until 1935.
The Communist strategy developed along three parallel lines. In the courtroom it enlisted skilled and experienced lawyers to fight a legal battle which transformed the case into a national and international cause célèbre, the most notorious political case of the 1930s.
Secondly, believing that only mass action rather than reliance on . . . courts could save the youths, the Party organized demonstrations, find raising events, petition drives, massive mailings, and countless mass meetings, always ensuring a numerous white presence to emphasize the interracial character of the fight against racism. No party document or function was complete without an appeal for the freedom of the “Scottsboro boys.” Several of the defendants’ mothers were sent on speaking tours across the country, and one was even sent abroad.
Communist speakers were for the first time to speak in black churches, fraternal organizations and clubs. The Party began to enlist the support of black religious and community leaders. Most of the nations’ black press reported favorably on the efforts of the Party and the ILD in the case. In the words of the editor of the Oklahoma Black Dispatch, the Communist party was the first white organization, since the abolitionist movements, to advocate openly “the economic, political and social equality of black folks.”
In the eyes of many blacks the Party’s role in the Scottsboro case reinforced the image of Communists as outspoken and committed defenders of the rights and freedoms of black Americans.”