Organize, Fight, Win: Black Communist Women’s Political Writing

Verso. Oct. 2022. 336p. ed. by Charisse Burden-Stelly & Jodi Dean. ISBN 9781839764974. pap. $29.95. POL SCI
Burden-Stelly (Africana studies and political science, Carleton Coll.; W.E.B. DuBois: A Life in American History) and Dean (Comrade: An Essay on Political Belonging) compile texts by Black women Communists (most of them U.S. Americans) from the end of World War I through the 1950s. The editors present essays, manifestos, and even a master’s thesis to sound these largely ignored or forgotten voices, which challenge misconceptions about the U.S. Communist Party and the role of Black women. Highlights include texts on Black women domestic workers by Williana Burroughs and by Ella Baker and Marvel Cooke. Baker and Cooke’s investigative report “The Bronx Slave Market” (published in 1935 by the newspaper of the NAACP) discusses the Black women who had to stand on street corners in the Bronx every morning and wait for white women to hire them as domestic day laborers, at wages of 15 to 30 cents an hour. Baker and Cooke argued the need to politically organize Black women and create class consciousness in the white women who hired and underpaid them. Some of the texts in this book could be criticized for misplaced idealism in their views of Soviet socialism under Stalin; on the whole, the collection makes apparent how racism, sexism, anti-unionism, class division, and other conflicts of the first half of the 20th century seem dismally familiar today.
VERDICT This book returns the voices of Black women Communists to their rightful place in histories of labor, race, and gender in the 20th century. Libraries serving historians or general readers interested in Black women’s history and activism need to add this to their shelves.
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