Pete: The Story of Peter V. Cacchione, New York's First Communist Councilman

By Simon W. Gerson | Go to book overview

For Pete this was no perfunctory matter. It took on the aspects of a crusade and, like virtually everything else Pete did, it had to be organized in campaign fashion. And finally, it had to be linked with the all-out war effort. To Pete the fight to break down Jim Crow barriers in big league baseball was part of the fight to unite the people in the struggle against Hitlerism.

Thus it came to pass, as the old book says, that 1942 and the spring of 1943 saw thousands of leaflets passed out at Ebbets Field calling for an end to discrimination in baseball. Members of the Young Communist League circulated petitions among the fans calling on the Dodger management to recruit Black players. Meanwhile, Pete saw to it that resolutions calling for all the big league teams to join in breaking down Jim Crow were advanced in unions and civic organizations and forwarded to the high moguls of organized baseball. In a relatively short time, the Greater New York CIO Industrial Union Council, the National Maritime Union, the United Auto Workers, the United Electrical and Machine Workers, the International Workers Order and dozens of other organizations went on record backing the fight. The Dailly Worker sports page, led by Lester Rodney and Nat Low, kept up a drumfire on the issue, with an able assist from Pete's column and the paper's editorial page.

Pete didn't only stress the moral question or the issue of wartime unity. An avid reader of the sports pages and a rabid Dodger fan himself -- and who in Brooklyn wasn't -- Pete knew that the borough wanted the pennant in the worst way, but the Dodgers had been hard hit by the military draft. A few Black stars could make the difference.

By the spring of 1943 Pete sensed that the grassroots movement had taken hold and the moment was ripe for a direct confrontation with the Dodger management. He wrote Dodger President Branch Rickey requesting that he meet a delegation on the question. Rickey, who was no slouch at counting bleacher attendance figures and was privately delighted at evidence of public support for breaking the color line, promptly agreed.

The meeting was set for June 11 at the Dodger offices at 215 Montague Street in downtown Brooklyn, just a few hundred yards from Pete's office. Pete, who knew a lot about baseball but did not trust his own knowledge, brought with him Nat Low of the Daily Worker sports page, as well as two leaders of the Young Communist League. And to make sure that the public -- and more particularly baseball-mad Brooklynites would know the underlying issue, Pete was careful to issue an

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Pete: The Story of Peter V. Cacchione, New York's First Communist Councilman
Table of contents

Table of contents

  • Title Page 2
  • Pete Made a Little History 5
  • Contents 7
  • 1 - The Argument 17
  • 2 - Boyhood in Sayre, Pa. 21
  • 3 - To New York -- via Las Vegas 24
  • 4 - Pete Gets Involved 26
  • 5 - Pete Leads a Bonus March Contingent 30
  • 6 - Brooklyn Captures Pete 34
  • 7 - Tammany Handles Relief 36
  • 8 - Seabury and Chile Acuna 39
  • 9 - Tin Boxes and Red Herrings 43
  • 10 - Class Struggle and Goo-Goos 47
  • 11 - The Fiorello Phenomenon 50
  • 12 - The Labor Party is Born 56
  • 13 - Pete and PR 61
  • 14 - Pete's First Try 67
  • 15 - The '37 Mayoralty Campaign 73
  • 16 - Election Day, 1937 79
  • 17 - The '37 Count 82
  • 18 - Towards the '39 Campaign 86
  • 19 - Marcantonio: A Man to Study 90
  • 20 - War Clouds and a Write-in Vote 99
  • 21 - From Phoney War to Anti-Fascist War 103
  • 22 - Victory in '41 112
  • 23 - Why Pete Won: Reflections 113
  • 24 - The Eagle Screams 116
  • 25 - Pete's First Council Session 120
  • 26 - Fighting Fascism and Anti-Semitism 124
  • 27 - Battling Baseball's Jim Crow 129
  • 28 - On Pete's Style of Work 132
  • 29 - Prophetic Resolutions 136
  • 30 - Defender of Italian-Americans 139
  • 31 - Widening Support 142
  • 32 - Manhattan Names Ben Davis 148
  • 33 - Tackling The Eagle and O'Dwyer 151
  • 34 - Pete Tops the List 153
  • 35 - Brooklyn to the Rescue 156
  • 36 - The Team of Two 161
  • 37 - Pete Wins a Third Term 163
  • 38 - Cold War Years 166
  • 39 - Stuyvesant Town: A Close Question 169
  • 40 the Going Gets Rougher 173
  • 41 - The Cardinal and the Council 177
  • 42 - The Year of the Long Knives 182
  • 43 - PR: Cold War Casualty 187
  • 44 - A Day of Civic Mourning 192
  • 45 - The Succession Fight 196
  • 46 - Running for Pete's Seat 203
  • 47 - An Afterword 204
  • Index 211
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