October 22, 1936 – Address by Ben Davis – Representative, American Communist Party – NBC Radio – Gordon Skene Sound Collection –
Before they were outlawed and before it became a badge of suspicion to be affiliated with them, The American Communist Party were a legit political party, with legit candidates running for public office, had legit offices and did legit fundraisers and no one seemed to mind – well . . .in the 1930s (around the time of this broadcast), a certain Texas Congressman named Martin Dies did mind and it was through him that in 1937, the very first House Un-American Activities came into being (it would become known as HUAC in 1946 and pave the way for Senator Joe McCarthy to wage his particular war).
In 1936 however, there were several candidates on the ballot in the Presidential election, including a number of local New York offices vying for roles in various city and state races on the November ballot.
Ben Davis was an African-American lawyer and communist who was elected in 1943 to the city council of New York City, representing Harlem. Davis became radicalized through his role as defense attorney in the 1933 trial of Angelo Herndon, a 19-year-old black Communist who had been charged with violating a Georgia law against “attempting to incite insurrection”, because he tried to organize a farm workers’ union. Davis asked the International Juridical Association to review his brief. During the trial, Davis faced angry, racist opposition from the judge and public. He was impressed with the rhetoric and bravery of Herndon and his colleagues. After giving concluding arguments, he joined the Communist Party himself.
Herndon was convicted and sentenced to 18–20 years in jail. He was freed after April 26, 1937 when, by a 5-to-4 margin, the United States Supreme Court ruled Georgia’s Insurrection Law to be unconstitutional.
Davis moved to Harlem, New York in 1935, joining the Great Migration of blacks out of the South to northern cities. He worked as editor of the Communist Party’s newspaper targeted to African-Americans, The Negro Liberator. He later became editor of the CPUSA’s official English-language daily, The Daily Worker.
In 1943, Davis was elected under the then-used system of proportional representation to fill a city council seat being vacated by Adam Clayton Powell Jr. to run for Congress. Davis was reelected twice to his city council seat. In 1949, he was expelled from the council upon being convicted of conspiring to overthrow the federal government under the Smith Act – a World War II-era charge that rested on Davis’s association with the Communist Party.
But to go back to 1936, here is a radio address, carried by NBC from October 22, 1936 with Ben Davis, campaigning for members of the Communist Party running in New York.
Fascinating topics in 1936 – posing arguments that were neither popular nor spoken about in the mainstream at the time.
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