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^^Yoii Caiiiiot Kill the 
Working Class^^ by Angelo Herndon 

• ■ ■■ '-'-1 ' • !'.-:-A !*'..■( 

. ^?■.1fe^ 


Published jointly by the 


Room 430, 80 East 11th Street, N. Y. C. 

and the 


2162~7th Avenue, N. Y. C. 

; ^t 

Also just published by the I. L. D. 

Mr. President, Free the Scottsboro Boys! 


The Sonnenburg Torture Camp 

by an Escaped Prisoner 





KNOW Georgia chain-gangs. And I know just how vicious 
the officials of the State of Georgia can be. The 18 to 20 
year sentence which they gave Angelo Herndon in the lower 
courts and then upheld in the State Supreme Court means only 
one thing. It means a death sentence. 

In collecting material for "Georgia Nigger," I examined 
most of the available records of the prison commission, I 
found no record of any prisoner who had lived 18 years on a 
chain-gang; I found no record of any prisoner who lived more 
than 10 years. Besides the fiendish tortures which are in- 
flicted on prisoners and under which many die in agony, the 
prisoners are forced to work under a killing pace which only 
the strongest can survive for a while. By law, prisoners must 
be at work when the sun rises. They are awakened long before 
dawn and work until dark before they are taken back to the 
stockade to eat and fall into their bunks, in the filthy disease- 
infested cages, to sleep. 

I have see men working- under a blazing sun, drenched with 
sweat, their mouths open, panting for breath, their eyes, 
nostrils, bodies covered with the red dust of the road. Some- 
times they cannot get water and in their thirst they drink pol- 
luted water from nearby streams. I have seen men tossing 
with typhoid fever in the same cage with other prisoners. I 
have seen men in the last stage of tuberculosis, men with open 
syphilitic sores, eating, sleeping, bathing, with the healthy 

This — and more — faces Angelo Herndon if he is sent to a 
Georgia chain-gang, It means his death, death from torture 


and disease for the splendid young fighter. :f the state of Geor- 

^^ B^ t^^=-of Georgia can he stop,e<i fro. adding Herndon 
to its long list of dead chain-gang prisone... l^^^^^^ 
™ass response of workers all over the country to tne call 

mass pressure can force his freedom. 4-,-hardly 

When you read this pamphlet you will feel as ^ ^^' » 
daring to think what it will mean to permit Angelo Herndon 
to be sent to a Georgia chain-gang. The International Laboi 
Def ense Ts determine! to save him from the chain-gang, and 
can save him if you will give your support. Herndon 

The International Labor Defense is appealmg the Herndon 
cal to the U. S. Supreme Court this fall. This couxt must be 
mJ e to feel the power of mass pressure. It --y; ^^^ ^ 
feel that millions of American workers, Ne^o and white are 
watchino- it, are demanding that it give Angelo Herndon his 
TeSm: Voin in this campaign. Send YOUR ^^^f^^ 
to the U S. Supreme Court at Washington, D. C. Jom m the 
fight t^ win complete freedom for Angelo Herndon, heroic 
young leader of the American working class. 


"You Cannot Kill the Working Class" 


MY great-grandmother was ever such a tiny girl when some 
white plantation owners rode up to the Big House and ar- 
ranged to carry her off. They bargained for a bit and then 
came down to the Negro quarters and grabbed her away from 
her mother. They could do that because my great-grand- 
mother's folks were slaves in Virginia. 

My great-grandmother lived to be very old. She often told 
me about those times. 

There is one story of hers that keeps coming back to me. 
She was still a young girl, and mighty pretty, and some rich 
young white men decided they wanted her. She resisted, so 
they threw her down on the floor of the barn, and tied her up 
with ropes, and beat her until the blood ran. Then they sent 
to the house for pepper and salt to rub in the wounds. 

Her daughter— my grandmother— couldn't remember much 
about slave days. While she was still a child, the CivJ! War 
was fought out and chattel-slavery was ended. One childhood 
scene, though, was scarred on her mind. It was during the 
Civil War. Some white men burst into her cabin. They seized 
her sister and strung her to a tree, and riddled her body with 
bullets. My grandmother herself stayed hidden, and managed 
to get away alive. 

I remember these stories, not because they were so different 
from life m my own day, but for the opposite reason. They 
were exactly like some of the things that happened to me 
when I went South. 

My father, Paul Herndon', aiid my mother, Hattie Herndon, 
hved for many wears in. Birmingham, and then came North 
ihey settled down in Wyoming, Ohio, a little steel and mining 
town just outside of Cincinnati. 


I Am Born Into A Miner's FamHy 

I was bom there on May 6, 1913. .My name was put down 
in the big family Bible as Eugene Angelo Braxton Hemdon 

They say that once a miner, always a mmer. I don t know 
if that's so, but I do know that my father never followed any 
other trade. His sons never doubted that they would go down 
into the mines as soon as they got old enough. Tne wail ot 
the mine whistle morning and night, and the sight of my 
father coming home with his lunch-pail, grimy from the day s 
coating of coal-dust, seemed a natural and eternal part of our 

\lmost every working-class family, especially in those days, 
nursed the idea that one of its members, anyway, would get 
out of the factory and wear clean clothes all the time and sit at 
a desk. My family was no exception. They hoped that I wou d 
be the one to leave the working-class. They were ready to 
make almost any sacrifices to send me through high-schoo 
and college. They were sure that if a fellow worked nard 
and had intelligence and grit, he wouldn't have to be a worker 

all his life. ., . , 

I haven't seen my mother or most of my family for a long 
time— but I wonder what they think of that idea now! 

My father died of miner's pneumonia when I was very small, 
and left my mother with a big family to care for Besides 
myself, there were six other boys and two girls. 1ft e all did 
what we could. Mother went out to do housework for rich 
white folks. An older brother got a job in the steel mills 
I did odd jobs, working in stores, running errands, for ?2 and 
$3 a week. They still had the idea they could scrimp and 
save and send me through college. But when I was 13, we 
saw it wouldn't work. 

I Go To Work 

So one fine morning in 1926, my brother Leo and I started 
off for Lexington, Ky. It was just across the border, and it 
had mines, and we were miner's kids. 

A few miles outside of Lexington, we were taken on at a 

. [6] 

small mine owned by the powerful DeBardeleben Coal Corpora- 
tion. There didn't seem to be any question in anyone's mind 
about a kid of 13 going to work, and I was given a job helping 
to load coal. 

We worked under the contracting system. One worker con- 
tracts to get a certain amount of work done, and a number of 
workers are put under him. The contractor's pay depends 
on how much the men under him load. It's a clever way of 
getting one worker to speed the others up. It divides the 
workers against each other, and saves a good deal of manage- 
ment expenses for the operators. 

On my job we were paired off in twos, shovelling coal into 
the cars. We got about |35 per estimate. An estimate is two 
weeks. Remember, that was in 1926, before the itrash, and 
we averaged 10 or 11 hours a day, and sometimes worked 14. 
Besides this, we had to walk three or four miles from the sur- 
face of the mine to our work, for there was no mantrip We 
didn't get any" pay for this time. 

They deducted about $10 or $15 every estimate for batli, 
school, doctor, hospital, insurance, and supplies. We had lo 
buy all our mining supplies, like carbide, lamps, dynamite, 
fuses, picks and so on, at the company store. The company 
store soaked us. 

They weighed our coal and charged us for the slate in it. 
They cheated awfully on the slate. Then after they skinned us 
that way, they skinned us again on the weight. 'I'he check- 
weighman had been hired by the company. He had the scales 
all fixed beforehand, and the cars just slid over the scales 
Everybody could see it was a gyp, but we weren't organized 
and though we grumbled we couldn't get any satisfaction' 

Th© Company Town 

We lived in the company town. It was pretty bad The 
houses were just shacks on unpaved streets. We seldom had 
anything to eat that w-as right. We had to buy everything 
from the company store, or we'd have iost our jobs They 
kept our pay low and paid only every two weeks, so we had 
to have credit between times. We got advances in the form of 


clackers, which could be used only in the conipany store. Their 
prices were very high. I remember paying 30 cents a pound 
for pork-chops in the company store and then noticing that 
the butcher in town was selling, therh for 20 cents. The com- 
pany store prices were just robbery without a pistol. 

The safety conditions in the mine were rotten. The escape- 
ways were far from where we worked, and there was never 
enough timbering! to keep the rocks from falling. There were 
some bad accidents while I was there. I took ail the skin off 
ray right hand pushing a car up into the facing. The cars 
didn't have enough grease and there were no cross-ties just 
behind me to brace my feet against. That was a bit of tiic 
company's economy. The car slipped, the track turned over, 
and the next thing I knew I had lost all the skin and a lot of 
the flesh off my right hand. The scars are there to this day. 

This DeBardeleben mine in Lexington was where the Jim- 
Crow system first hit me. The Negroes and whites very seldom 
came in contact with each other. Of course there were separate 
company patches for living quarters. But even in the mine the 
Negroes and the whites worked in different places. The Negroes 
worked on the North side of the mine and the whites on the 

The Negroes never got a look-in on most of the better-paying 
jobs. They couldn't be section foremen, or electricians, or sur- 
veyors, or head bank boss, or checkweighman, or steel sharpen- 
ers, or engineers. They could only load the coal, run the 
motors, be mule-boys, pick the coal, muck the rock. In other 
words, they were only allowed to do the muscle work. 

Besides that, the Negro miners got the worst places to work. 
We worked in the low coal, only 3 or 4 feet high. We had to 
wear knee pads, and work stretched flat on our bellies most 
of the time. 

A Slashing Pay -Cut 

One day the company put up a notice that due to large over- 
head expenses, they would have to cut our pay from 42 to 31 
cents a ton. We were sore as hell. But there wasn't any 
union in the mine, and practically none of us had had any 


experience at organization, and though we grumbled plenty we 
didn't take any action. We were disgusted, and some of us 
quit. Whites and Negroes both. 

I was one of those who quit. My contact with unions, and 
with organization, and the Communist Party, and unity be- 
tween black and white miners— all that was still in the future. 
The pay-cut and the rotten conditions got my goat, and I 
walked off, because as yet I didn't know of anything else to do. 
Well, my brother Leo and I set out for Birmingham, where 
there were relatives— and plenty more mines. I was 'out of 
work for a long time. Finally I went to an employment agencv 
and paid down $3 for a job. They signed a lot of us on to 
work putting up the plant of the Goodyear Rubber Company at 
Gadsden, Ala. They carried us up there on trucks, promising 
us we would, get $3 a day. When we got there they told us 
we would get only $1.75 a day. We started work with the 
concrete mixer, preparing the foundations for the place. We 
worked night and day, often two shifts one right' after the 
other. We worked like dogs and slept in stifling tents and 
ate rotten food. 

At the end of the first week we lined up to get our pay. 
Around the pay-office stood dozens of uniformed policemen and 
company guards. The foreman came out and told us that we 
had no pay coming, because everything we'd earned had been 
eaten up by transportation and flops and food. 

We were wild with anger. We kept swarming up to the 
pay-office, but as quick as a group formed there the cops anct 
guards drove us away. The Goodyear Company wouldn't even 
agree to send us back to Birmingham. 

I still didn't have any idea what to do about things like this. 
I didn't figure we men could get together and organize and 
make the company come across. 

Leo and I hitch-hiked back to Birmingham, and made the 
round of the mines. I finally got work at the Docena mine 
of the Tennessee Coal, Iron and Railroad Co. 

The Lords of Afabaina 

I want to talk a little about that. When I sat in jail this 


spring and read that the workers of the Tennessee Coal and 
Iron Company had come out on strike, I knew that a new day 
had come in the South. The T.C.I, just about owns Alabama. 
It owns steel mills and coal-mines- and a railroad and all sorts 
of subsidiary plants. It owns company patches and houses. 
It certainly owns most of the Alabama officials. It dictates 
the political life of the state. It has made Jim-Crowism a fine 
art. It has stool-pigeons in every corner. The T.C.I, is like 
some great, greedy brute that holds a whip over the whole 
state. Its shadow is everywhere — on factories, schools, judges' 
benches, even the pulpits of churches. 

The Tennessee Coal and Iron Company has always been in 
the forefront of the fight against unions, in the South. They 
had — and still have — a company-union scheme, which they make 
a great deal out of, but which doesn't fool any of the workers. 
I noticed that whatever checkweighman the company put up, 
would always be elected. 

I started surface work at the Docena mine, helping to build 
transformation lines, cutting the right of way for wires. I was 
supposed to get $2.78 a day, but there were lots of deductions. 

the Power of Organization 

It waa while I was on this job that I first got a hint of an 
idea that workers could get things by organizing and sticking 

It happened this way: one of my buddies on the job was 
killed by a trolley wire. The shielding on that wire had been 
down two weeks, and the foreman had seen it down, but hadn't 
bothered with it. All of us surface men quit work for the 
day, when we saw our buddy lying, burnt and still, tangled up 
in that wire. 

The next week we were called before the superintendent to 
explain the accident. Of course we were expected to white- 
wash the foreman and the company, so they wouldn't have to 
pay any insurance to the dead man's family. Something got 
into me, and I spoke up and said that the foreman and the 
whole company was to blame. The men backed me up. One 
of the foremen nudged me and told me to hush. He said: 


"Boy, you're talking too damn much." But I kept on. The 
foreman was removed and the dead man's family got som« 
compensation from the T.C.I. 

That was my first lesson in organization. 

By this time the. crisis had hit the United States. Mines and 
factories closed their doors, and businesses crashed, and workers 
who had never been out of jobs before began to tramp the 
streets. Those of us who still had jobs found our wages going 
down, down. The miners got one cut after another. Often, 
when we got our pay-envelopes, we'd find a blank strip. That 
meant that the company had taken all our wages for supplies 
and food advances. 

I Begin to Question 

The Jim-Crow system was in full force in the mines of the 
Tennessee Coal and Iron Company, and all over Birmingham. 
It had always burnt me up, but I didn't know how to set about 
fighting it. My parents and grand-parents were hard-boiled 
Republicans, and told me very often that Lincoln had freed 
the slaves, and that we'd have to look to the Republican Party 
for everything good. I began to wonder about that. Here 
I was, being Jim-Crowed and cheated. Every couple of weeks 
I read about a lynching somewhere in the South. Yet there 
sat a Republican government up in Washington, and they 
weren't doing a thing about it. 

My people told me to have faith in God, and he would make 
everything come right. I read a lot of religious tracts, but 
I got so I didn't believe them. I figured that there was no 
use for a Negro to go to heaven, because if he went there it 
would only be to shine some white man's, shoes. 

I wish I could remember the exact date when I first attended 
a meeting of the Unemployment Council, and met up 
with a couple of members of the Communist Party. That date 
means a lot more to me than my birthday, or any other day in 
my life. 

The workers in the South, mostly deprived of reading-matter, 
have developed a wonderful grapevine system for transmitting 


news. It was over this grapevine that we first heard .hat 
there were "reds" in town. 

The foremen-when they talked about it^and the newspapers, 
and the big-shot Negroes in Birmingham, said that the reds 
were foreigners, and Yankees, and believed- m ki"^ P-Pj' 
Id would get us in a lot of trouble. But out of all the talk 
I go! a few ideas clear about the Reds. They believed in 
organizing and sticking together. They believed that we didn t 
have to have bosses on our backs. They believed that Negxoes 
ought to have equal rights with whites. It all sounded O.K. 
to me. But I didn't meet any of the Reds for a long time. 

I Find the Working - Class Movement 

One day in June, 1930, walking home from work, I came 
across some handbills put out by the Unemployment Council in 
Birmingham. They said: "Would you rather fight-or starve . 
They called on the workers to come to a mass meeting at 

3 o'clock. , ^. T ^„; , 

Somehow I never thought of missing that meetmg. I said 
to myself over and over: "It's war! It's war!_ And I might as 
well get into it right now!" I got to the meetmg while a white 
fellow was speaking. I didn't get everything he said, but this 
much hit me and stuck with me: that the workers could only 
get things by fighting for them, and that the Negro and white 
workers had to stick together to get results. The speaker 
described the conditions of the Negroes m Birmingham, and f 
kept saying to myself: "That's it." Then a Negro spoke from 
the same platform, and somehow I knew that this was what 
I'd been looking for all my life. 

At the end of the meeting I went up and gave my name 
From that day to this, every minute of my life has been tied 
up with the workers' movement. 

I joined the Unemployment Council, and some weeks later 
the Communist Party. I read all the literature of the move- 
ment that I could get my hands on, and began to see my way 

more clearly. ,1,4.-. 

I had some mighty funny ideas at first, but I guess that wa. 

only natural. For instance, I thought that we' ought to start 



by getting all the big Negro leaders like DePriest and Dubois 
and Waiter White into the Communist Party, and then we 
would have all the support we needed. I didn't know then 
that DePriest and the rest of the leaders of that type are on 
the side of the bosses, and fight as hard as they can against 
the workers. They don't believe in fighting against the system 
that produces Jim-Crowism. They stand up for that system, 
and try to preserve it, and so they are really on the side of 
Jim-Crowism and inequality. I got rid of all these ideas after 
I heard Oscar Adams and others like him speak in Birmingham. 

Misleaders in Action 

That happened this way: 

Birmingham had just put on a Community Chest drive. 
The whites gave and the Negroes gave. Some gave willingly, 
thmking it was really going to help feed the unemployed, and 
the rest had it taken out of their wages. There was mighty 
little relief handed out to the workers, even when they did 
get on the rolls. The Negroes only got about half what the 
whites got. Some of the workers waiting at the relief station 
made up a take-off on an old prison song. I remember that 
the first two lines of it went: 

I've counted the beans, babe, 
I've counted the greens. . 
The Unemployment Council opened a fight for cash relief, 
and aid for single men, and equal relief for Negro and white 
They called for a meeting in Capitol Park, and we gathered 
about the Confederate Monument, about 500 of us, white and 
Negro, and then we marched on the Community Chest head- 
quarters. There were about 100 cops there. The officials of the 
Community Chest spoke, and said that the best thing for the 
Negroes to do was to go back to the farms. They tried very 
hard to give the white workers there the idea that if the 
Negroes went back to the- farms, the whites would get a lot 
more relief. 

Of course our leaders pointed out that the small farmers 
and share-croppers and tenants on the cotton-lands around 
Birmingham were starving, and losing their land and stock, 


and hundreds were drifting into the city in the hope of getting 

Then Oscar Adams spol^e up. He was the editor of the 
Birmingham Reporter, a Negro paper. What he said opened my 
eyes — but not in the way he expected. He said we sliouldn't be 
misled by the leaders of the Unemployment Council, that ws 
should go politely to the white bosses and officials and ask them 
for what they wanted, and do as they said. 

Adams said: "We Negroes don't want social equality." I was 
furious. I said inside of myself: "Oscar Adams, we Negroes 
want social and every other kind of equality. There's no reason 
on God's green earth why we should be satisfied with anything 

Traitors in the Ranks 

That was the end of any ideas I had that the big-shots 
among the recognised Negro leaders would fight for us, or 
really put up any struggle for equal rights. I knew that Oscar 
Adams and the people like him were among our worst enemies, 
especially dangerous because they work from inside our ranks 
and a lot of us get the idea that they are with us and of us. 

I look back over what I've written about those days since I 
picked up the leaflet of the Unemployment Council, and wonder 
if I've really said what I mean. I don't know if I can get 
across to you the feeling that came over me whenever I went to 
a meeting of the Council, or of the Communist Party, and heard 
their speakers and read their leaflets. All my life I'd been 
sweated and stepped on and Jim-Crowed. I lay on my belly 
in the mines for a few dollars a week, and saw my pay stolen 
and slashed, and my buddies killed. I lived in the worst sec- 
tion of town, and rode behind the "Colored" signs on street- 
cars, as though there was something • disgusting about me. I 
heard myself called "nigger" and "darky," and I had to say 
"Yes, sir" to every white man, whether he had my respect 
or not. 

I had always detested it, but I had never known that anything 
could be done about it. And here, all of a sudden, I had 
found organizations in which Negroes and whites sat together, 


and worked together, and knew no difference of race or color. 
Here were organizations that weren't seared to come out for 
equality for the Negro people, and for the rights of the work- 
ers. The Jim-Crow system, the wage-slave system, weren't 
everlasting after all! It was like all of a sudden turning a 
corner on a dirty, old street and finding yourself facing a 
broad, shining highway. 

The bosses, and the Negro misleaders like Oscar Adams, told 
us that these Reds were "foreigners" and "strangers" and 
that the Communist program wasn't acceptable to the workers 
in the South. I couldn't see that at all. The leaders of the 
Communist Party and the Unemployment Council seemed people 
very much like the ones I'd always been used to. They were 
workers, and they talked our language. Their talk sure 
sounded better to me than the talk of Oscar Adams, or the 
President of the Tennessee Coal, Iron and Railroad Co. who 
addressed us every once in a while. As for the program not 
being acceptable to us— I felt then, and I know now, that the 
Communist program is the only program that the Southern 
workers— whites and Negroes both— can possibly accept in the 
long run. It's the only program that does justice to the 
Southern worker's ideas that everybody ought to have an equal 
chance, and that every man has rights that must be respected. 

Work Against Odds 

The Communist Party and the Unemployment Council had 
to work under the most difficult conditions. We tried to have 
a little headquarters, but it was raided and closed by the police. 
We collected money for leaflets, penny by penny, and mimeo- 
graphed them on an old, rickety hand-machine we kept in a 
private home. We worked very quietly, behind drawn shades, 
and were always on the look-out for spies and police. We 
put the leaflets out at night, from door-step to door-step. 
Some of our members who worked in factories sneaked them 
in there. 

Sometimes we would distribute leaflets in a neighborhood, 
calling for a meeting in half an hour on a certain corner. We 
would put up just one speaker, he would give his message in 


the fewest possible words, we would pass out pamphlets and 
leaflets, and the meeting would break up before the cops could 
get on the scene. 

The bosses got scared, and the Ku Klux Klan got busy. The 
Klan would parade up and down the streets, especially in the 
Negro neighborhoods, in full regalia, warning the Negroes to 
keep away from the Communists, They passed out leaflets 
saying: "Communism Must Be Wiped Out. Alabama Is a Good 
Place for Good Negroes, but a Bad Place for Negroes Who 
Want Social Equality." 

In June, 1930, I was elected a delegate to the National Un- 
employment Convention in Chicago. Up to this point I had 
been staying with relatives in Birmingham. They were under 
the influence of the Negro misleaders and preachers, and they 
told me that if I went to the convention I need never come to 
their house again. The very morning I was to leave, I found 
a leaflet on my dorstep, put there by' the Ku Klux Klan. 

I went to Chicago, riding the rods to get there. 

A World Movement 

In Chicago, I got my first broad view of the revolutionary 
workers' movement. I met workers from almost every state in 
the union, and I heard about the work of the same kind of 
organizations in other countries, and it first dawned on me how 
strong and powerful the working-class was. There wasn't only 
me and a few others in Birmingham. There were hundreds, 
thousands, millions of us! 

My family had told me not to come back. What did I care? 
My real family was the organization. I'd found that I had 
brothers and sisters in every corner of the world, I knew that 
we were all fighting for one thing and that they'd stick by 
me. I never lost that feeling, in all the hard days to come, in 
Pulton Tower Prison with the threat of the electric chair and 
the chain-gang looming over me. 

I went back to Birmingham and put every ounce of my 
strength into the work of organization. I built groups among 
the miners. I read and I studied. I worked in the Young Com- 
munist League under the direction of Harry Simms, the young 


white boy who was later, during the strike of the Kentucky 
miners, to give his life for the working-class. 

I helped organize an Anti-Lynching Conference in Chat- 
tanooga.. This conference selected delegates to the first con- 
vention of the League of Struggle for Negro Rights, held in 
St. Louis in 1930. 

Death Penalty to the Lynchers 

I myself was not a delegate to the St. Louis Conference — 
but the decisions of the conference impressed me. All the 
Negro organizations before this, and all the white liberal 
groups, had pussy-footed and hesitated and hemmed ;md hawed 
on the burning issue of lynching. When I read the slogan of 
the League of Struggle for Negro Rights — "Death Penalty to 
Lynchers!" — the words seemed blazed right across the page. 
The St. Louis conference called for a determined struggle for 
equality for the Negro people. 

I had a number of experiences about this time, tViat taught 
me a great deal. I went into the Black Belt, and talked with 
the Negro and white share-croppers and tenants. The price of 
cotton had crashed, and the burden was being put on the crop- 
pers and tenants, so the landlords might go on living in style. 
There was practically nothing to eat in the cabins. The crop- 
pers had applied for government loans, biat when the loans 
came the landlords, with the help of the rural postmasters,, 
stole the money. There was as yet no Share Croppers Union,, 
which was later to challenge the landlords' system of debt- 

A Negro preacher with whom I had made contact notified a, 
Negro secret service-man that I was about, and together they 
tried to terrorize me. The preacher said: "I don't know any- 
thing about the conditions of the people here. I only know 
that I myself am happy and comfortable." Well, the upshot 
of it was that the preacher called the sheriff, and lynch-mob 
began to form, and I escaped by grabbing the first train out of 
town. My escape was a matter of minutes. It was a white 
share-cropper who supplied me with the funds to gel. away. 



It was while I was in New Orleans for a few weeks as re- 
presentative of the Trade Union Unity League, that 1 first saw 
the name Scottsboro. I want to go iiito that a bit, because the 
Scottsboro case marked a new stage in the life of the Negro 
people — and the white workers too — in the United States. 

One morning I picked up a capitalist paper and saw that 
"nine black brutes had raped two little white girls." That was 
the way the paper pub it. There was a dock strike on at the 
time in New Orleans, and the bosses would have been glad to 
see this issue, the Scottsboro case, used as a method of whipping 
up hatred of white and Negro longshoremen against each other. 

I knew the South well enough to know at once that here was 
a vicious frame-up. I got to work right away organizing com- 
mittees among the workers of New Orleans. We visited clubs, 
unions, churches to get support for the Scottsboro boys. 

On May 31, 1981, I went as a delegate to the first All- 
Southern Scottsboro Conference, held in Chattanooga. 

The hall where the conference was to be held was surrounded 
by gunmen and police, but we went through with the meeting 
just the same. The bosses and dicks were boiling mad because 
we had white and Negro meeting together — and saying plainly 
that the whole Scottsboro case was a rotten frame-up. I 
spoke at that conference. 

While I was in Chattanooga that trip, I went to a meeting 
in a Negro church addressed by William Pickens, field secretary 
of the National Association for the -Advancement of Colored 
People. Pickens made an attack on the International Labor 
Defense. He said we shouldn't get the governor and the courts 
mad. We should try to be polite to them. He said: "You 
people don't know how to fight. Give your money to me and 
to lawyers and we'll take care of this." Then he attacked the 
mothers of the Scottsboro boys as being a lot of ignorant fools. 
Well, I was so mad I hardly knew what I was doing. I spoke 
up and said that the Scottsboro boys would never get out of 
prison until all the workers got together and brought terrific 
pressure on the lynchers. I said: "We've been polite to the 
lynchers entirely too long. As long as we O. K. what they 


do, as long as we crawl to them and assure them we have no 
wish to change their way of doing things— just so long we'll be 

What Scottsboro Means 

Later, while I lay in jail in Atlanta, I followed the Scottsboro 
case as best I could. Every time I got a paper — and that wasn't 
too often — I looked eagerly for news of the Scottsboro boys. I 
was uplifted, brimming over with joy because of the splendid 
fight we made at the new trial in Decatur. I could hardly 
contain myself when I saw how the workers were making the 
Scottsboro case a battering-ram against Jim-Crowism and op- 
pression. I watched the protests in the Scottsboro case swelling 
to a roar that echoed from one end of the world to the other. 
And I'd pace that cell, aching to get out and throw myself 
into the fight. 

If you know the South as I do, you know what the Scottsboro 
case means. Here were the landlords in their fine plantation 
homes, and the big white bosses in their city mansions, and 
aie whole brutal force of dicks and police who do their bidding. 
There they sat, smug and self-satisfied, and oh, so sure that 
nothing could ever interfere with them and their vrays. For 
all time they would be able to sweat and cheat the Negro 
people, and jail and frame and lynch and shoot them, as they 

And all of a sudden someone laid a hand on their arm and 
said: "STOP." It was a great big' hand, a powerful hand, the 
hand of the workers. The bosses were shocked and horrified 
and scared. I know that. And I know also that after the fight 
began for the Scottsboro boys, every Negro worker in mill or 
mine, every Negro cropper on the Black Belt plantations, 
breathed a little easier and held his head a little higher. 

I'm aliead of my story now,, because I got carried away by 
the thought of Scottsboro* 

I settled down for work in Birmingham, especially among 
the miners. Conditions in the mines had become worse than 
horrible. The company had gunmen patrolling the highways, 


watching the miners. I was arrested several times during this 
period, and quizzed and bullied. 

During one of these arrests the police demanded that I tell 
them where the white organizers lived. . They said: "Where's 
that guy Tom ? We'd like to lay our hands on the son-of-a- 

1 said: "I haven't seen Tom for days." 

All of a sudden one of the policemen struck me across the 
mouth. "Mr. Tom to you, you bastard!" he roared. 

The Willie Peterson Frame -Up 

But it was during the Willie Peterson frame-up tliat I first 
got a real taste of police brutality. 

There was frame-up in the air for weeks before the Peterson 
case started. The miners were organizing against wage-cuts; 
the white and Negro workers were beginning to get together 
and. demand relief and jobs and the human rights that had 
been taken from them. If tha bosses could engineer a frame- 
up against some Negro, a lot of white workers would begin 
to think about that instead of about bread and jobs. If they 
could be made to think of the Negroes they worked with as 
rapists and murderers, they wouldn't be so anxious to organize 
with them in unions and Unemployment Councils. Also, such 
frame-ups are always the excuse for terrorizing the Negroes. 

On August 3, in Birmingham, two white girls were killed. 
More than 70 Negroes were lynched in the fury that was 
whipped up around this case! One of the papers said that the 
man who shot these girls was a Negro, and that he had made 
a, "Communist speech" to them before the murder. 

' A dragnet was thrown out, and I was one of the first to be 

I was lying in bed when a large white man came to our 
window and put a gun in my face. At the same moment there 
was a crash, and soma other men broke in the door. My room- 
mate and I were forced out of bed and handcuffed. We didn't 
know what it was all about. 

I was locked up. About an hour later, police came to my cell 
and dragged n:e down the stairs and into a car. I was carried 


to the woods, about 20 miles out of town. On the way one of 
the gun-thugs kept pointing out places where he had killed 

The car stopped and we all got out. They asked ine: "Who 
shot Nell Williams?" I said I didn't know. 

Third Degree 

Two of the men pulled their coats off and slipped a rubber 
hose from their trousers. I was still handcuffed. They began 
to beat me over the head. When one man got tired, another 
would take the hose from him and go on with the beating. 
They said they knew that I had shot Nell Williams. They 
demanded that I point out some of the white comrades. I 
shut my lips tight over my teeth, and said nothing. 

Next morning I couldn't get my hat on my swollen head. My 
ears were great raw lumps of flesh. 

Willie Peterson, an unemployed coal-miner, a veteran of the 
World War, was framed for that murder. He is aa mnocent 
as I was. 

By now I was known to every stool-pigeon and policeman in 
Birmingham, and my work became extremely difficult. It was 
decided to send me to Atlanta. 

I want to describe the conditions of the Atlanta workers, 
because that will give some idea of why the Georgia bosses 
find it necessary to sentence workers' organizers to the chain- 
gang. I couldn't say how many workers were unemployed— 
the officials keep this information carefully hidden. It was ad- 
mitted that 25,000 families, out of 150,000 population, were on 
relief. Hundreds who were jobless were kept off the relief 

In the factories, the wages were little higher than the amount 
of relief doled out to the unemployed. The conditions of the 
Southern textile workers is known to be extremely bad, but 
Atlanta has mJlls that even the Southern papers talk about as 
"isore spots." The Fulton Bag Company was one of these. 
There, and in the, Piedmont and other textile plants, young 
girls worked for $6 and even less a week, slaving long hours 
in ancient, unsanitary buildings. 


In the spring of 1930, six organizers of the workers — two 
white women, two white men and two Negro men — were ar- 
rested and indicted for "inciting to insurrection." The state 
was demanding that they be sent to the 'electric chair. 

Splitting the Workers 

The Biaclc Shirts — a fascist organization — held parades quite 
often, demanding that all jobs be taken away from Negroes and 
given to whites. They said that all the Negroes should go back 
to Africa. I smiled the first time I heard this — it amused me 
to see how exactly the program of Marcus Garvey fitted in 
with the program of the Klan. 

Of course the demand of the Black Shirts to give all the jobs 
to the whites was an attempt to split the white workers from 
the Negroes and put an end to joint struggles for relief. As 
organizer for the Unemployment Council, I had to fight mighty 
hard against this poison. 

From the cradle onward, the Southern white boy and girl 
are told that they are better than Negroes, Their birth cer- 
tificates are tagged "white"; they sit in white schools, play in 
white parks and live on white streets. They pray in white 
churches, and when they die they are buried in white cemeteries. 
Everywhere before them are signs: "For White." "For Colored." 
They are taught that Negroes are thieves, and murderers, and 

I remember especially one white worker, a carpenter, whr- 
was one of the first people I talked to in Atlanta. He was very 
friendly to me. He came to me one day and said that he 
agreed with the program, but something was holding him back 
from joining the Unemployment Council. 

"What's that, Jim?" I asked. Really, though, I didn't have 
to ask. I knew the South, and I could guess. 

"Well, I just don't figure that white folks and Negroes should 
mix together," he said. "It won't never do to organize them 
in one body." 

I said: "Look here, Jim. You know that the carpenters and 
all the other workers get a darn sight less pay for the same 


work ini the South than they do in other parts. Did you ever 
figure out why?" 
He hadn't. 

The Price of Division 

"Well," I said, "I'll tell you why. It's because the bosses 
have got us all split up down here. We Southern workers are 
as good fighters as there are anywhere, and yet we haven't 
been able to get equal wages with the v/orkers in other places, 
and we haven't got any rights to speak of. That's because 
we've been divided. When the whites go out on strike, the 
bosses call in the Negroes to scab. When the Negroes strike, 
the bosses call in the whites to scab. 

"Did you ever figure out why the unions here are so weak? 
It's because the whites don't want to organize with the Negroes, 
and the Negroes don't trust the whites. 

"We haven't got the simplest human rights down here. 
We're not allowed to organize and we're not allowed to hold 
our meetings except in secret. We can't vote — most of us— 
because the bosses are so anxious to keep the Negroes from 
voting that they make laws that take this right away from 
the white workers too. 

"We Southern workers are like a house that's divided against 
itself. We're like an army that goes out to fight the enemy 
and stops on the way because its men are al! fighting each 

"Take this relief business, now," I said. "The commissioners 
tell the whites that they can't give them any mora relief be- 
cause they have to feed so many Negroes, and the Negroes 
ought to be chased back to the farms. Then they turn around 
and tell the Negroes that white people have to come first on 
the relief, so there's nothing doing for colored folks. That way 
they put US) off, and get us scrapping with each other. 

"Now suppose the white unemployed, and the Negro unem- 
ployed, all go to the commissioners together and say: 'We're 
all starving. We're all in need. We've decided to get together 
into one strong, powerful organization to make you come across 
with relief.' 


"Don't you think that'll bring results, Jim?" I asked him. 
"Don't you see how foolish it is to go into the fight v/ith half 
an army when we could have a whole one? Don't you think 
that an empty belly is a pretty punk, exchange for the honor 
of being called a 'superior' race? And can't you realize that 
as long as one foot is chained to the ground the other can't 
travel very far?" 

What Happened to Jim 

Jim didn't say anything more that day. I guess he went 
home and thought it over. He came back about a week later 
and invited me to his house. It was the first time he'd ever 
had a Negro in the house as a friend and equal. When I got 
there I found two other Negro workers that Jim had brought 
into the Unemployment Council. 

About a month later Jim beat up a rent collector who v.'as 
boarding up the house of an evicted Negro worker. Then he 
went to work and organized a committee of whites and Negroes 
to see the mayor about the case. "Today it's the black worker 
across town; tomorrow it'll be me," Jim told the mayor. 

There are a lot of Jims today, all over the South. 

We organized a number of block committees of the Unem- 
ployment Councils, and got rent and relief for a large number 
of families. We agitated endlessly for unemployment insurance. 

In the middle of June, 1932, the state closed down all the 
relief stations. A drive was organized to send all the jobless 
to the farms. 

We gave out leaflets calling for a mass demonstration at the 
courthouse to demand that the relief be continued. About 1000 
workers came, 600 of them white. We told the commissioners 
we didn't intend to starve. We reminded them that $800,000 
had been collected in the Community Chest drive. The commis- 
sioners said there wasn't a cent to be had. 

But the very next day the commission voted $6,000 for 
relief to the jobless! 

On the night of July 11, I went to the Post Office to get my 
mail. I felt myself grabbed from behind and turned to see a 
police officer. 


I was placed in a ceil, and was shown a large electric cliair, 
and told to spill everything I knew about the movement. I 
refused to talk, and was held incommunicado for eleven days. 
Finally I smuggled out a letter through another prisoner, and 
the International Labor Defense got on the job. 

The Insurrection Law 

Assistant Solicitor John Hudson rigged up the charge ajjainst 
me. It was the charge of "inciting to insurrection." It was 
based on an old statute passed in 1861, when the Negro people 
were still chattel slaves, and the white masters needed a law 
to crush slave insurrection and kill those found giving aid to 
the slaves. The statute read: 

"If any person be in any manner instrumental in 
bringing, introducing or circulating within the state any 
printed or written paper, pamphlet, or circular for the 
purpose of exciting insurrection, revolt, conspiracy or 
resistance on the part of slaves, Negroes or free per- 
sons of color i.n this state he shall be guilty of high 
misdemeanor which is punishable by death." 

Since the days of the Civil "War that law had lain, unused 
and almost forgotten. Now the slaves of the' new order — the 
white and black slaves of capitalism — were organizing. In the 
eyes of the Georgia masters, it was a crime punishable by 

The trial was set for January 16, 1933. The state. of Georgia 
displayed the literature that had been taken from my room, and 
read passages of it to the jury. They questioned me in great 
detail. Did I believe that the bosses and government ought to 
pay insurance to unemployed workers? That Negroes should 
have complete equality with white people? Did I believe in 
the demand for the self-determination of the Black Belt — that 
the Negro people should be allowed to rule the Black Belt 
territory, kicking out the white landlords and government of- 
ficials? Did I feel that the working-class could run the mills 
and mines and government ? That it wasn't necessary to have 
bosses at all ? 


The Unseen Jury 

I told them I believed all of that — and more. 
The courtroom was packed to suffocation. The I.L.D. at- 
torneys, Benjamin J. Davis, Jr., and John H. Geer, two young 
Negroes — and I myself — fought every step of the way. We 
were not really talking to that judge, noi* to those prosecutors, 
whose questions we were answering. Over their heads we 
talked to the white and Negro workers who sat on the benches, 
watching, listening, learning. And beyond them we talked to 
the thousands and millions of workers all over the world to 
whom this case was a challenge. 

We demanded that Negroes be placed on jury rolls. We de- 
manded that the insulting terms, "nigger" and "darky," be 
dropped in that court. We asserted the right of the workers 
to organize, to strike, to make their demands, to nominate can- 
didates of their choice. We asserted the right of ihe Negro 
people to have complete equality in every field. 

The state held that my membership in the Communist Party, 
my possession of Communist literature, w&s enough to send 
me to the electric chair. They said to the jury: "Stamp this 
damnable thing out now with a conviction that <viU auto- 
matically carry witii it a penalty of electrocution." 
And the hand-picked lily-white jury responded: 
"We, the jury, find the defendant guilty as charged, but 
recommend that mercy be shown and fix his sentence at from 
18 to 20 years." 

I had organized starving workers to demand bread, aaa I 
was sentenced to live out my years on the chain-gag for it. 
But I knew that the movement itself would not stop. I spoke 
to the court and said: 

"They can hold this Angelo Herndon and hundred.*! of others, 
but it will never' stop these demonstrations on the part of 
Negro and white workers who demand a decent place to live 
in and proper food for their kids to eat." 

I said: "You may do what you will with Angelo Herndon. You 
may indict him. You may put him in jail. But there will 
come thousands of Angelo Hemdons. If you really want to do 
anything about the case, you must go out and indict the social 


system. But this you will not dO; for your role is to defend 
the system under which the toiling masses are robbed and op- 

"You may succeed in killing one, two, even a score of work- 
ing-class organizers. But you cannot kill the working class." 

Fuiton Tower Prison 

Now began the long months in Pulton Tower Prison. How 
can I describe those days? I was starved. I was ill, I was 
denied the sight of friends, denied the literature of the class 
struggle, which meant more than food and drink to me. I was 
tortured by the jailers, who taunted me, and threatened me, 
and searched feverishly for a thousand and one ways to make 
the days of a jailed man a living hell. 

But worse than anything was the way time dragged, dragged, 
till each separate minute became an eternity of torture. Time 
became my personal enemy — an enemy I had to fight with all 
my strength. The first hours became a day, and the first days 
became weeks, and then began the long succession of months — 
six of them, a year of them, seventeen, eighteen, nineteen. I 
lay on my filthy bunk, and studied the patterns on walls and 
ceilings, and learned to know every spot and crack. I watched 
the shadows of the jail bars on the floor shorten and lengthen 
again. I saw men come and go, and now and again return. 
Prisoners arrived with horrible stories of torture and brutality 
on the chain-gang for which I was headed. I said good-bye to 
ten men as they left the cell to go to the death-chair. 

Meanwhile, beyond the walls, the working-cliss movement 
was fighting on. Sometimes I got a newspaper, ton, and dirty, 
and lay on the floor piecing it together. Sometimes — very 
rarely — a friend was allowed to see me for a moment. In this 
way I learned what was going on. 

The crisis got worse, and the New Deal came in. The work- 
ers learned that it meant more hunger and misery, and strikes 
broke out. The map of the United States was dotted with 
strikes. The workers in the very hell-holes I had once slaved 
in, downed tools and fought to better their conditions. The 
farmers massed to stop the sale of their land. The Scottsboro 


fight went on ceaselessly, was carried across the v/orld, piled 
up new mountains of strength. 

In Germany, Hitler took over power, poured, a sea of blood 
over the country, and yet could not ,dro;wn the organizations, 
the fighting spirit of the working-class. The Chinese Soviets 
tore a fifth of China from the grip of the foreign and the 
native exploiters. 

In the Soviet Union, the workers, all power in their hands, 
built vast new dams and power-stations, laid new railways, 
fired new blast furnaces, planted great farms and built, stone 
upon stone, the structure of a new society of peace and plenty. 

The war danger flared and died down and flared again — 
the workers watching constantly to stamp out the spark. 

"The Workers Will Set Me Free" 

I wanted to be out in the struggle, taking my part in it, 
doing my share. But not for one minute did I doubt that the 
workers would make me free. Even the news that the Georgia 
Supreme Court had denied me a new trial did not dishearten 
me. Prom the letters I received, I knew that the workers every- 
where were fighting for me. I wrote letters— never knowing if 
they would leave the jail or not — and I read what papers and 
books I had, and I waited. 

The day I heard that the International Labor Defense had 
had bail set for me, I packed up my belongings and got ready to 
go. The jailers laughed at me. "Bail set ain't bail raised," 
they said. But I knew I'd go. And I went. 

One morning Joe Brodsky, the lawyer who'd also fought for 
the Scottsboro boys, came to my cell and said: "We're going, 

The working-class had determined on my release, and I was 
free. They had raised, penny by penny, the enormous sum of 
$15,000 to get at class brother out of jail. 

I took the train for the North. All , along the way I was 
greeted by my comrades. In Washington, in Baltimore, in 
Philadelphia and Newark, workers stood on the platform to 
watch the train come by, and they cheered me, and I cheered 
their spirit and their determination. I stepped out of the train 


at Pennsylvania Station, into the arms of 7,000 of my white and 
Negro class-brothers and class-sisters. 

I am happy to be out. Now, for a time at least, I can take 
my place once more in the ranks of the working-class. Now 
I am back in the fight. 


An Appeal to the Working - Class and the 
Negro People: 

""HE case of the State of Georgia vs. Angelo Herndon is 
the Case of the Capitalist iVIasters against the Working- 

The state of Georgia proclaims that membership in militant 
working-class organizations, possession of the literature of the 
class-struggle, is a crime punishable by death. With the in- 
dictment of Angelo Herndon, the bosses of Georgia threw 
their challenge to the working-class. Under the terms of that 
indictment, organization of the workers is forbidden. The dis- 
tribution of working-class literature is forbidden. The nomina- 
tion of working-class candidates is forbidden. The punishment 
for these acts is to be death in the electric chair. 

This is the most outspoken declaration of fascism that has 
yet been made in America. 

Angelo Herndon organized the workers to fight for bread. 
Angelo Herndon declared boldly the principle of equality for 
the Negro people. These were his "crimes." 

The fight for Angelo Herndon is the fight for the rights of 
the workers to organize, strike, picket, read and distribute 
their literature. It is a fight for rights bought by years of 
blood-shed. It is, likewise, the fight for the liberation of the 
Negro people, a nation: in chains. 

To hold back from this fight, to betray this fight, is a crime 
against the working-class, against the oppressed Negro people. 

In the forefront of the fight to save Herndon are the Inter- 
national Labor Defense and the League of Struggle for Negro 


Rights. To fight effectively for Herndon means to join, sup- 
port, be active in these organizations. 

The International Labor Defense is the fighting aefense or- 
ganization of the working class and the poor farmers. It tights 
for the freedom of prisoners of the class war and prisoners of 
the national oppression of the Negro people. It is the shield 
of the working-class in its struggle for the rights of free 
speech, assemblage, organization, press. 

The League of Struggle for Negro Rights is an organization 
built on the program of uncompromising struggle for the com- 
plete economic, political and social equality of the Negro people, 
and the right of self-determination for the Black Belt. The 
L.S.N.R. is at present engaged in a campaign for a federal Bill 
for Negro Rights and the Suppression of Lynching. This Bill 
provides the penalty of death for lynchers, and makes every 
act of discrimination against a Negro an offense punishable 
by law. Around this bill the L.S.N.R. is organizing tremendous 

The International Labor Defense and the League of Struggle 
for Negro Rights ask all workers, regardless of political af- 
filiation, regardless of religious belief, regardless even of dis- 
agreements with parts of their program, to join in the struggle 
to set free Angelo Herndon and the Scottsboro boys. 

The Georgia Supreme Court has denied Herndon a new trial. 
The Alabama Supreme Court has denied a new trial to Clarence 
Norris and Haywood Patterson, two of the Scottsboro boys. 
These cases will now be appealed to the U. S. Supreme Court. 

Will Herndon remain out of jail, giving his young enthusiasm 
to the fight? Or will this winter find him' once more in the 
clutches of the lynchers, the steel of the chain-gang about his 
legs, bending his back under the threats of a prison overseer 
on a Georgia road? Will the winter find the Scottsboro boys 
burned to a crisp in the electric chair? 

The answer must be a wave of protests that will hammer 
against the walls of Fulton Tower, that will shake Kilby Prison, 
that will rock the Supreme Court of the United States and force 
the justices to release to us these 10 victims of oppression. 

So far the working-class has not failed Angelo Herndon and 
the Scottsboro boys. It cannot fail them now. 


Ai&gel® HerEidoii 
Is Mot Yet Fre® I 

The devotion of the working class 
and its sympathizers has freed him 
from Fulton Tower — ON BAIL. 

The State of Georgia is still 
determined to murder him on 
the chain-gang. 


The International Labor Defense is appealing the 
Hemdon case and the Scottsboro case to the U. S. 
Supreme Court this fall 


$15,000 is needed to carry on the defense, to prepare 
the briefs and appeals, to continue the fight — 

Convert Your Bail Loan Certificate Into An 

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By Converting Your Bail Loan— Or Part Of It— Into 
A Contribution to the 


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