From Scottsboro to Munich: Race and Political Culture in 1930s Britain

By Susan D. Pennybacker | Go to book overview

NOTES ON SOURCES

IN THE SPRING OF 2007 the National Gallery in Washington featured an exhibition that subsequently moved to the Guggenheim Museum in New York, entitled Foto: Modernity in Central Europe, 1918–1945, curated by Matthews Witovsky. The Yale literary critic Peter Demetz contributed an Introduction to its catalogue, and dozens of researchers across Europe are thanked for tracing the images. I passed through rooms filled with graphic design and art photography, searching for references to the wartime Hungarian regime and the German invasion. Just before encountering a very few works devoted to the Holocaust, I paused near some of the only expressly political images in the show. One was Lajos Vajda's Tolstoy and Gandhi, an undated collage featuring photo cut-outs of the principals, flanked by a few other strangers' mounted faces and bodies in skewed disorder characteristic of the genre—one of these was Lenin's.

I stopped short in sudden recognition of the face of an African American woman—it was a clipped head-shot of Ada Wright at the very bottom of the canvas. Wright was banned from Hungary and much of Eastern Europe during the summer of 1932. I was both pleased to see her there and reminded of the disappearance of the very history to which I had committed the last fifteen years of my life. The exhibition catalogue offered no relief. It explained that Vajda left Budapest for Paris in 1929 (where Wright, of course, had spoken), identifying only the work's namesakes and the bust of Lenin. Vadja was a pacifist and the catalogue simply states that “other emissaries of peace inhabit the lower half of the composition.” No one seeing this work in recent times seems to have left any note of Ada Wright's presence, secure in the presumption of her anonymity or unable to imagine how to find out who she was.

The central methodological core of this book is reflected most visibly in the ways in which sources not usually linked are brought to bear upon one another. In some instances, the sources are previously unrecorded, as in some of the Comintern files material, but in other instances, well-established biographies, memoirs, diaries, letters, parliamentary, and private paper collections are revisited in new ways. In this respect, the text engages a hybrid of materials whose selection is driven by the retelling of a series of 1930s mostly known “racialpolitical” narratives, newly organized around the lives of the individual activists at center stage. Many strands of the story are incomplete in archival terms, and the hope is that this exploration will tempt other scholars to take up the individual parts and renovate them, explore them, and recalibrate them in deeper and different ways. James Hooker's short biography of George Padmore, for example, remains the central standard source on Padmore's life partly because no one has linked other kinds of sources to a major new study, or explored the

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