An Interracial Movement of the Poor: Community Organizing and the New Left in the 1960S

An Interracial Movement of the Poor: Community Organizing and the New Left in the 1960S

An Interracial Movement of the Poor: Community Organizing and the New Left in the 1960S

An Interracial Movement of the Poor: Community Organizing and the New Left in the 1960S


Japan's lightning march across Asia during World War II was swift and brutal. Nation after nation fell to Japanese soldiers. How were the Japanese able to justify their occupation of so many Asian nations? And how did they find supporters in countries they subdued and exploited? Race War! delves into submerged and forgotten history to reveal how European racism and colonialism were deftly exploited by the Japanese to create allies among formerly colonized people of color. Through interviews and original archival research on five continents, Gerald Horne shows how race played a key- and hitherto ignored- ;role in each phase of the war.

During the conflict, the Japanese turned white racism on its head portraying the war as a defense against white domination in the Pacific. We learn about the reverse racial hierarchy practiced by the Japanese internment camps, in which whites were placed at the bottom of the totem pole, under the supervision of Chinese, Korean, and Indian guards- an embarrassing example of racial payback that was downplayed by the defeated Japanese and the humiliated Europeans and Euro-Americans.

Focusing on the microcosmic example of Hong Kong but ranging from colonial India to New Zealand and the shores of the U. S., Gerald Horne radically retells the story of the war. From racist U. S. propaganda to Black Nationalist open support of Imperial Japan, information about the effect of race on U. S. and British policy is revealed for the first time. This revisionist account of the war draws connections between General Tojo, Malaysian freedom fighters, and Elijah Muhammed of the Nation of Islam and shows how white racism encouraged and enabled Japanese imperialism. In sum, Horne demonstrates that the retreat of white supremacy was not only driven by the impact of the Cold War and the energized militancy of Africans and African-Americans but by the impact of the Pacific War as well, as a chastened U. S. and U. K. moved vigorously after this conflict to remove the conditions that made Japan's success possible.


During the summer of 1964, University of Michigan graduate Dave Strauss joined a community organizing project sponsored by the Students for a Democratic Society (SDS) on Cleveland’s Near West Side. SDS—the organization that came to be regarded as virtually synonymous with the white New Left—began community organizing under the auspices of its Economic Research and Action Project (ERAP) in 1963. Inspired by the Civil Rights Movement, sds activists entered low-income neighborhoods to pursue what they first called “community organization”: bringing individuals living in the same residential area together into organizations to fight for their common interests. the ultimate and indeed lofty aim was to build “an interracial movement of the poor” to abolish poverty, end racial inequality, and extend democracy in America. Over the next few years, New Left organizers established thirteen official erap projects in predominantly black, white, and racially diverse neighborhoods; the largest, most successful, and longest-lasting projects were located in Chicago, Newark, Boston, and Cleveland. the son of Jewish Communists, Strauss had grown up in Cleveland and “it made a lot of sense to go to Cleveland, which I knew, and try to make a difference.” He joined other organizers, including fellow Michigan graduate Sharon Jeffrey, as well as Swarthmore College graduates Oliver Fein and Charlotte Phillips, and stayed for two and a half years, through the fall of 1966.

One of the first residents encountered by organizers in Cleveland was Beulah “Boots” Neal, a welfare recipient. “What we did the first year for her was move her,” Strauss recalls. “Every few weeks she was moving again, and we got to go and move her, her refrigerator and stove.” For Neal, raising her children and dealing with the insecurities and injuries that stemmed from the marginal economic existence afforded by welfare left her with little time and energy for community activism. When Strauss first met her, he remembers thinking, “‘This is absurd. Why are we working with this person?’ … and then one day it . . .

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