Most of Alabama's rural Communists, like their urban counterparts, were black. It was a good bet that they, too, did not know the difference between Stalin and Trotsky or between Lenin and Marx, nor did they much care. They were starving during the 1930s. Times were hard.
It is difficult to determine exactly whether city dwellers or farmers had it worse in Alabama during the Great Depression. Certainly, both were in a bad way, but farm families perhaps had two slight advantages. First, they were accustomed to poverty. Their economic history had been a stultifying record of steady downward mobility since at least 1865. Also, it was more difficult to go completely without food in the countryside. Even after worse came to worst, farm people had recourse to the meager produce of a family garden.1 Much as in the city, though, poverty in the countryside bred desperation, and desperation bred experiments in communism. Radicals in the Alabama hinterland also guaranteed that the KKK would remain present and active.
So abject was Alabama's farm poverty, so complete the system of subjugation under which tenants lived, and so dismal their prospects for change that some 5,000 rural Alabamians actually turned to the Communist Party during the 1930s. Most were attracted by the Communists' determination to abolish hunger rather than by the ideological bases of radical doctrine. Birmingham became a center of Communist activity during the decade and served as the jumping-off point for attempts at organizing Alabama's sharecroppers. Hosea Hudson and several other organizers got their starts as Communist workers in Birmingham and, as the decade progressed, spread the radical word throughout Alabama's countryside.2
The vast majority of Alabama's farm Communists consisted of black ten-