Manhattan Names Ben Davis
ACROSS the river the joint was jumping, politically speaking. Adam Powell, still the council's only Black member, had declined to run for reelection. He planned to run for Congress the next year in the new Harlem district carved out by the State Legislature in belated response to the growing demand for Black representation. Who would fill the shoes of the magnetic Adam Powell?
Pete was up to his neck in his own campaign but rationed his own precious time in order to huddle in Manhattan with Ben Davis, Harlem leader of the Communist Party, state secretary Gil Green and others. To complete its ticket the Communist Party had nominated Carl Brodsky, a well-known Party leader with special strength in the Lower East Side Jewish community, but obviously that didn't meet the problem of another Black representative, one who could have a powerful base in the Harlem electorate and yet poll enough votes in white communities to win a borough-wide seat.
Ben Davis took the initiative. He visited Powell to urge him to reconsider his decision. Nothing doing. To make the council race in 1943 and the congressional race in 1944 was too much. Would he help establish unity around a progressive Black councilmanic candidate? Powell preferred, as Davis recalled later, "a hands-off policy." ( Davis, op. cit., all quotations from Davis in this chapter are from his autobiography.)
Ben then visited Dr. Channing Tobias, a YMCA leader, not a militant but highly regarded in the Black community and with considerable contacts among the Roosevelt forces. "He was a typical liberal," wrote Davis, "but I was not looking for a Communist candidate but one around whom the broadest unity of the Negro people and labor could be achieved in this specific situation." Dr. Tobias respectfully declined as did Dr. George Cannon, a prominent Black surgeon who was also approached by Davis.