Hammer and Hoe Oral History Collection

This collection’s interviews were conducted by Robin Kelley as research for his book Hammer and Hoe: Alabama Communists During the Great Depression. The book, which was published by the University of North Carolina Press in 1990, documents the activities of the Alabama Communist Party in the 1930s and the impact of race and other cultural identities on the movement.

James E. Jackson (1914-2007) was an African-American communist and civil rights activist, best known for his role in founding and leading the Southern Negro Youth Congress (1937-1948). He became  head of the Louisiana state organization of the Communist Party of the United States of America (CPUSA) in 1946, and was a Party organizer in the automobile industry in Detroit from 1947 to 1950. He then moved to New York, becoming the Southern Director for the Communist Party. In 1951 he was indicted under the Smith Act (charged with advocating the overthrow of the U.S. government), and became a fugitive until 1955. He later served as the CPUSA’s Educational Director and International Affairs Secretary, retiring in 1991.

Hosea Hudson (1898-1988) was an African-American labor leader, industrial union organizer, activist and a member of the Communist Party of the United States.  His early adult years were spent working as a sharecropper in Georgia and eventually as an iron molder in Alabama.  He spent a few months in New York studying at a Communist Party training school where he learned to read in write.  Hudson remained in the party up until his death in 1988.

H. D. Coke was an African-American Communist Party member from Birmingham, Alabama.
Marge Frantz (1922-2015) was a teacher, feminist and activist.  Her father, Joe Gelder, joined the Communist Party during the Great Depression as a way to organize for labor rights in the South.  She became a member of the Young Communist League when she was 13 years old.  She married Laurent Frantz in 1941, who was a lawyer and a member of the Communist Party.  She later went on to meet her life partner, Eleanor Engstrand, during her work for UC Berkeley’s Institute of Industrial Relations.  She left the CP in 1956, but was an active member up until that point.
Laurent Frantz (1914-1998) was born in Tennessee and received law degrees from the University of Tennessee and Duke University.  He joined the Communist Party in the 1930s.  Frantz moved to California in 1950, where he was a defense adviser in the trial of the California Communist Party under the Smith Act.  Although the defendants were found guilty in 1952, their convictions were overturned in 1957 by the Supreme Court.  Frantz was a board member of the American Civil Liberties Union and on the national board for the National Lawyers Guild.  He left the Communist Party in 1957.
Rob Hall (1906-1993) was an author, editor and publisher.  During the Great Depression, he sought an alternative to capitalism, and joined the Communist Party.  Hall edited one of the party’s student publications, The Student Review. After his graduation from Columbia University, Hall worked for The Daily Worker.  Hall left the publication in 1956 after 11 years of employment due to his disagreements regarding the Stalin regime.  In his later years, he focused his efforts on environmental preservation and became the editor of The Conservationist. 

Esther Cooper Jackson (1917-) is an African-American civil rights activist and one of the founding editors of the magazine Freedomways, a significant political and cultural quarterly journal published from 1961 until 1985.  Jackson attended segregated schools as a child.  In 1938, she went on to study at Oberlin College and in 1940 earned a master’s degree from Fisk University.  She joined the Communist Party in 1939.  Jackson worked for the Southern Negro Youth Congress (SNYC) after graduate school.  She met James E. Jackson in 1939, and the two eventually married a few years later.  She moved to New York City in 1952, and less than a decade later became the managing editor of Freedomways.

Nannie Washburn (1900-?) was a civil rights activist, an advocate for internationalism and a Communist Party member who was born into a sharecropper’s family in Georgia.  She spent her childhood working in the textile industry starting at the age of eight.   She joined the Communist Party in the 1930s during the Great Depression.  She spent the majority of her life fighting for equal rights for African-Americans, claiming that “I won’t be free until all of us are free.”
Charles Echols was a writer, radical minister and a member of the Communist Party.  He was active in the Inter-Racial Forum, the Unemployment Association and the Non-Partisan League, among other organizations.
Mack Robinson