Developing Negro Communist Leaders


by James W. Ford


Written: As an report delivered to the Plenary Meeting of the Communist Party, USA, held on June 17-20, 1937.
SourceParty Building and Political Leadership (Workers Library Publishers, New York City, 1937), pages 102-114.
Transcribed: for by Juan Fajardo, November 2023.



During the last five or six years the Communist Party has made some fine headway among the Negro people. We have great prestige among the masses and great influence among certain organizations of the Negro people.

The Communist Party, by its ideology and in its organization of struggles for equal rights and opportunities and for cultural advancement, started a renaissance in the life of the Negro people in the United States. The struggles in behalf of the Scottsboro boys, for Angelo Herndon's freedom, for equality in the trade union movement, for civil rights through peace and democratic movements, for opportunity of advancement in the political field, have not only resulted in great advancements for the Negro people generally, but have brought forth stalwart leaders and rank-and-file fighters among Negro men, such as Angelo Herndon and many others.

But wide recruitment into the Party, particularly of Negro women fighters and leaders, on the basis of these advances, sadly lags behind. We are therefore called upon to give the question of recruitment of Negroes into our Party serious organizational and political attention. Happily, we are reaching a turning point in our approach, appeal and work among Negro women.

It is a glorious thing to find at our plenum and in the Negro commission discussions that Negro women are clamoring to get into our Party. They are beating at our doors, I think that is a mighty fine thing. We must find the way to make it possible for Negro women to get into our Party and into the fullest leadership in the Party. We must take lessons from the Negro organizations on this question. Women are the foremost leaders of the Negro people. Most organizations have an active women's leadership.

On June 6, a conference was held in Harlem by the women's commission on work among Negro women. It was a most successful conference. I will not speak about it in detail now. That, I am sure, will be done by the comrades of the women's commission. To win Negro women and involve them in mass activity, we must learn to take up in a mass way the special problems of Negro women and organize them for struggle.

I think, in the first place, we should give consideration to the organization of women domestic workers. Do you know, comrades, that the greatest degree of employment among the Negroes as a whole is found, according to U.S. statistics, among domestics and personal servants? No one has to tell this audience of the working conditions of this category of workers. The fact is that they are not organized and it is difficult to organize them because of the peculiarities of the industry. We also find a great number of Negro women throughout the country among the laundry workers. If we develop struggle among these workers alone, we will bring thousands of them into organizations, and we will win hundreds of them for the Communist Party. Naturally, there are other categories. There are many white-collar workers, there are thousands of teachers, middle class and other categories.

The resolution of the women's commission on work among Negro women says:

"The main emphasis was on the promotion of cadres. It was proposed that special attention he given to Negro women on the basis of their special problems; that special women's training classes be organized where necessary, that more Negro women be brought forward in the leadership of the Party, trade union, C.I.O., unemployed and peace movements."

There is absolute agreement with this. In Chicago, for example, one of the best C.I.O. organizers in the Calumet region is a Negro woman. In Harlem one of the most active comrades in the United Aid Committee for Ethiopia is a Negro woman. I want to call your attention to a woman comrade who has been brought forward as the leader of the Workers Alliance in Harlem. This work had been led by one of our outstanding men comrades who recently was sent to Detroit. When this comrade left, the organization called a meeting to replace him. The Workers Alliance in Harlem had become a mass movement. We needed a good comrade to take the place of the one who was leaving. We, of course, had had our eyes on a comrade for a long time —a woman comrade. She was called into the meeting of the executive and discussed the work of the Workers Alliance. At the conclusion someone arose and said, "I nominate Comrade Frankie Duty organizer for the Alliance." There was a unanimous decision. Comrade Duty has proved her worth.

Only today was there a mass demonstration of the relief workers in Harlem. Four thousand workers took part; thousands lined the streets. It was my pleasure along with Herbert Benjamin, national leader of the Workers Alliance, to lead this demonstration through the streets of Harlem with Mrs. Frances Duty. We were very proud. As we wound our way through the streets of Harlem, workers along the line of march were constantly waving their hands in friendly greetings to Comrade Duty, hailing her by her name. It was a great thing. Here was a woman, who had become a mass leader —not only a woman leader, but a leader of one of the largest mass movements in Harlem— respected and accepted by the masses. That is the kind of leader that Comrade Dimitroff spoke of at the Seventh World Congress of the Communist International. That is the way we try, and want, to bring women leaders forward in Harlem and throughout the country. We, and I personally, feel very proud of Comrade Duty. She has qualified. It does us or the comrades no good un- less we can continue this method of bringing leaders forward. Artificial promotion means nothing; it sometimes makes a lot of trouble for us.

I want to give another example.

Everybody here knows about the mass organization and movement in and around the Harlem hospital. Harlem hospital issues serve as a rallying ground for civic movements in the whole of Harlem. I don't want to relate the whole story of this development. But I must say a word about the comrade who did it, and how it was done. You know the comrade. She is a fine woman comrade. She is a nurse. She joined our Party some time ago, and began systematic work of agitation among the nurses and patients, with the knowledge that she had to do it at the risk of her job. She did it. She recruited one, then another and another into the Party. She worked under the guidance of the section committee. This work went on for a year or more. The unit grew. It finally grew to 40 members of the Party. Doctors were recruited. The group became a mass movement of more than 400 people in and around the Harlem hospital. Shop bulletins were issued. Today, this comrade is a mass leader in Harlem. She had no reservations; she simply worked. She respected the section leadership and did not fail to come every day to it for guidance. She had no subjective feelings about the Party nor about her work. She saw her duty to the people around her and did that duty. In all of my experience, I have seen no finer example of leadership, of an attitude to work and to the Party on the part of any of our comrades than that of this comrade. She is a member of the Harlem Division Committee of the Communist Party, and a member of the District State Committee. I have no doubt that she is going to become one of the outstanding leaders of our movement.

These two examples of women comrades show how to develop cadres and leading mass personnel. Let us continue that method. It would be mighty fine if we could plunge into the organization of the domestic workers.

We have had the occasion to pay tribute at this plenum to one of the longest in Party membership among the leading Negro women comrades. I refer to Comrade Maude White, whose tenth anniversary in our Party is being celebrated this month. It was very fine of Comrade Browder to use this occasion to dramatize work among Negro women by paying tribute to Comrade White. Ten years, ordinarily, is not a long time if, for example, we compare it to the long, brilliant record of Comrade Mother Bloor. But it is unusual for a Negro woman comrade. We do not have many who have been in the Party ten years.



In order to build the Party among the Negro people and to extend the united Negro People's Front, it is necessary to renew our struggle for the immediate and elementary needs of the Negro people. Our Party must stand out as the independent fighters for the Negro people.

Another factor necessary in building the Party among the Negro people is the question of training and retraining our personnel. This was a special point on the agenda of the Negro Commission of the plenum, Comrade Bassett made an excellent report and outlined a program of reading, study, self-study courses and schools for speedily overcoming a very great shortcoming in this field.

If we make a careful analysis of our Negro personnel we find both among the leading forces as well as among secondary leaders a woeful lack of systematic training in revolutionary theory and practice. We have, therefore, agreed to organize a national training school We have agreed to require of comrades in leading work, who are unable to attend these schools, to submit a plan of self-study and reading.

There is a great need for pamphlets on Negro problems. A number of comrades have been assigned to write popular pamphlets.

We are emphasizing again that special attention be given to the organization of the Party apparatus in those districts where there are large concentrations of Negroes, The experiences in Harlem, Chicago and Cleveland should be extended. A special problem is daily attention on the part of the state or district bureaus to this work.

Following the plenum regional conferences in the biggest and most important districts should be organized and a representative of the Center should attend these conferences.

At a recent meeting of the Negro Commission held in New York, Comrade Browder said the following to us:

"I would say that the main feature of the past year has been that in the field of work among the Negro people. As in most of the other fields of our work, we have begun to realize on a mass scale the results of the line of the Seventh World Congress of the Communist International. We have begun to emerge from sectarian isolation and become a mass influence, a mass power. As in our Party work generally, this has been accompanied by a sharpening of alt the problems involved in our work. All of our weaknesses and inadequacies come out most sharply now precisely because we have made some tremendous gains and thereby face responsibilities which politically we feel equipped to meet."