Communist Front? The Civil Rights Congress, 1946-1956

Communist Front? The Civil Rights Congress, 1946-1956

Communist Front? The Civil Rights Congress, 1946-1956

Communist Front? The Civil Rights Congress, 1946-1956

Excerpt

The House Un-American Activities Committee called them a "Communist front." But, in something of an ecumenical spirit, so did Roger Baldwin of the American Civil Liberties Union. The top "commie hunter" of the now defunct New York World-Telegram generously called them the "most successful Commie hoax of all time."

What stirred such passion was the Civil Rights Congress, an organization that undoubtedly included Communists, which was in existence from 1946 to 1956. An amalgamation of the National Negro Congress, the International Labor Defense, and the National Federation for Constitutional Liberties, during its comparatively brief existence CRC and the attorneys who worked with them fought for and established a number of civil liberties rulings that expanded the rights of all in the United States. In state and federal courts they argued landmark cases in areas as disparate as extradition, standing, excessive bail, the right to be silent before a grand jury, and many more. Some of their scores of cases were lost. Others were won. Decades before the issue became a live one in the civil rights movement, CRC and their allies were arguing before the U.S. Supreme Court that an employer had to hire Afro-Americans, as Euro-Americans quit or transferred, until the proportion of Black clerks to white clerks approximated the proportion of Black customers to white customers (about 50%) at this particular store. This "premature antiracism" pushing the controversial issue of quotas--and this is what distinguished CRC from similar organizations that argued cases in the courts--was backed. up by spirited mass picketing of Lucky Stores in Contra Costa County, California.

Why, despite their obvious contribution to the ongoing battle for democratic rights, was CRC subjected to such vilification? Why did the FBI break into their offices and bug their phones; why did HUAC frequently call their activists in for grilling; why were their meetings disrupted by young toughs; why did the government send informers and agents provocateurs into their ranks? Can one connect the death of their top leader in San Francisco, Ida Rothstein . . .

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