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^^Yoii Caiiiiot Kill the
Working Class^^ by Angelo Herndon
• ■ ■■ '-'-1 ' • !'.-:-A !*'..■(
Published jointly by the
INTERNATIONAL LABOR DEFENSE
Room 430, 80 East 11th Street, N. Y. C.
LEAGUE OF STRUGGLE FOR NEGRO RIGHTS
2162~7th Avenue, N. Y. C.
Also just published by the I. L. D.
Mr. President, Free the Scottsboro Boys!
The Sonnenburg Torture Camp
by an Escaped Prisoner
By JOHN L. SPIVAK
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"
By ANGELO HERNDON
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
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
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
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
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
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.
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?"
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
"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
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
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
""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.
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
ANGELO HERNDON MUST STAY FREE
The International Labor Defense is appealing the
Hemdon case and the Scottsboro case to the U. S.
Supreme Court this fall
THE SCOTTSBORO BOYS MUST STAY FREE
$15,000 is needed to carry on the defense, to prepare
the briefs and appeals, to continue the fight —
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