Communist Party of the United States of America Oral History Collection

The collection contains interviews with 41 leaders and activists, including several founding members of the Communist Party of the United States of America. The bulk of the interviews were conducted during the 1980s by Mary Licht, then chair of the Party’s History Commission. Interviews with African American and Jewish Party members comprise the majority of the collection.  The following interviews are a selection from the entire collection, which is housed at the Tamiment Library.

John Abt (1904-1991) was a prominent American lawyer and spent most of his career as the chief counsel to the Communist Party of the United States of America.  He is known for joining Vito Marcantonio in defending the CPUSA on charges from the McCarran Act, and party members on charges stemming from the Smith Act.  One of Abt’s greatest legal victories was the unanimous Supreme Court ruling in 1965 which allowed individuals to invoke their constitutional privilege against self-incrimination by declining to register with the government that they were members of the Communist Party.  Abt is said to have remained a member of the CP up until his death in 1991.

B. D. Amis (1896-1993) was an African American civil rights leader and labor organizer. He fought for African Americans and workers in the south during the period of desegregation. He is best known for his activism on behalf of the Scottsboro Boys and for his leadership in the American Negro Labor Congress, the League of Struggle for Negro Rights, and the National Negro Congress.  He wrote articles for the Daily Worker and became and editor to the Communist-inspired League of Struggle for Negro Rights’ publication, The Liberator. 

Phil Bart was a longtime Communist Party member and official. In 1963, he served as the Party’s Organizational Secretary and in 1979, as the head of the History Commission. In 1979, he published a book titled “Highlights of a Fighting History: 60 Years of the Communist Party USA.”

Esther Carroll was a Polish immigrant and a member of the Garment section of the Communist Party.  She was active in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania.

Marvel Cooke (1903-2000) was an American journalist, writer, and civil rights activist.  In 1928, she was the first woman reporter at the New York Amsterdam News and the first African-American woman to work at a mainstream white-owned newspaper.  While working for Amsterdam News in the 1930s, Cooke helped create a local chapter of the Newspaper Guild, held union meetings in her home, and joined the Communist Party.  She later went on to volunteer as national legal defense secretary for the Angela Davis Defense Fund in 1971.

James Dolsen (1885-1988) was a founding member of the CPUSA and a writer for The Daily Worker. He attended Beloit College in Wisconsin and Northwestern University Law School in Chicago. While in Chicago, Dolsen joined the Socialist Party in 1910. In 1917, he became an Organizer for the National Organization of the Socialist Party, and went on to help form the Communist Labor Party of America, which was one of the predecessors of the CPUSA. Dolsen remained a Party member until his death in 1988.

Mildred McAdory Edelman was an African-American woman, Communist Party leader, domestic worker and Southern Negro Youth Congress leader.  McAdory became one of the first civil rights activists to use an approach that would be adopted by the broader civil rights movement by refusing to give up her bus seat to a white person in Birmingham, Alabama in the 1940s.  Rosa Parks later credited Communist Party leaders like McAdory for helping to develop strategies that defeated Jim Crow discriminatory laws.

Elizabeth Gurley Flynn (1890-1964) was a labor leader, activist, and union organizer for the Industrial Workers of the World and a founding member of the American Civil Liberties Union.  In her youth, Flynn became a socialist and was active in the suffrage movement, eventually going on to join the Communist Party in 1926.  She created the Workers’ Defense League which was an organization designed to fight for victims of the post-World War I Red Scare.  Flynn was best known for her talents as an orator, her political writings and her staunch objection to capitalism.

David Freedman 

 

Leila (Rose) Gaulden

Hugo Gellert (1892-1985) was a radical Hungarian-American artist and muralist.  He emigrated to the United States in 1906 from Budapest, Hungary.  Gellert was a devoted socialist and later joined the Communist Party of the United States.  He is quoted as saying “being an artist and being a communist are one and the same” and believed that politics were inseparable from art.

Si Gerson (1909-2004) was a leader of the Communist Party of the United States and the CP’s leading expert on political campaigns and elections.  He was arguably most famous for being the party’s choice to fill the New York City Council opening left by the death of Peter Cacchione, even though the council refused to approve the appointment.  In the 1950s, he became an editor of The Daily Worker and later to The Daily World.

Gil Green (1906-1997) was a leading figure in the Communist Party of the United States of America.  He is known for his involvement in the Young Communist League, which was the party’s youth organization, during the 1930s.  As a youth, he joined the Young Workers League (later the Young Communist League) and eventually became its national secretary.  Green was convicted under the Smith Act in 1949, and imprisoned from 1956 until 1961.  He left the CP in 1991 and went on to help found the Committees of Correspondence.

 

Joseph Henderson

Henry Huff (1894-1986) was a founding member of the Communist Party in Washington State and was chairman of the CP in the Northwest for 10 years.  He helped to organize unemployed workers through councils set up by the Communist Party during the 1930s.  Huff was convicted under the Smith Act in April of 1953 along with six other party leaders.  These defendants later became known as the “Seattle Seven.”

Conrad Komorowski (1906-1991) was a journalist for The Daily World starting in 1968 and wrote on a broad range of international topics.  He was active in the Anti-Imperialist League and joined the Communist Party during the 1930s.  Prior to joining The Daily World, he was an editor of the Detroit-based progressive Polish language newspaper, Glos Ludowy.

Bob Lumer (1940-) was the son of Hyman Lumer (1909-1976).  Hyman was a biologist and teacher who worked at a small college in Cleveland, Ohio.  He lost his job in 1947 and became a union organizer for the United Electrical Workers’ Union (UE).  Hyman was arrested in the 1950s und the Taft-Hartley Act, and was incarcerated in 1961.  Upon his release, he moved to New York and worked for the Communist Party as the editor for two of their publications.

Ed Maurin

Lewis Moroze was head of the Communist Party’s Jewish Commission and managing editor of Jewish Affairs.

Joe N.

 

Samuel Neuberger

Elizabeth Nicholas

Louise Patterson (1901-1999) was a political activist and participant in the Harlem Renaissance of the early twentieth century, as well as the black arts movement of the 1960s.  She was born in Chicago and after teaching at Hampton Institute in Virginia, completed her education at the New School for Social Research in New York.  In 1942, she married William Patterson, a lawyer and a prominent figure in the CPUSA.  During the 1960s, she led the Free Angela Davis Committee in New York, as well as advocating for other civil liberties cases throughout her lifetime.

 John Pittman (1906-1993) was an African-American journalist, writer and communist.  He graduated from Morehouse College and received a Master of Arts in Economics from the University of California at Berkeley.  He founded the San Francisco Spokesman in 1931 and eventually became an editor for the People’s World.  Pittman became a foreign correspondent for the Daily Worker and the Chicago Defender. 

Paula Rigerman was a Russian immigrant and labor activist who was active in Yonkers and the Bronx.  She was a member of the Amalgamated Food Workers Union. 
Ben Riskin
Abe Rosen (1890-) was a Russian Immigrant, a member of the Socialist Party and a member of the Communist Party. He was a supporter of the working class and the union.

 

Pauline Rosen

David Rubell
Edka Seltzer
David Seltzer

 

Jerry Simkin

Donald Stevens
Frank Sykes
Leon Tolopko was a member of the Ukrainian Workers Club and an editor of the Ukrainian language newspaper, Ukrainski Vista.

 

Jim West

Agnes (Wendy) Willis was a union organizer and a labor activist.  

Charles Wilson was a member of the Communist Party and was active in Illinois.  He was nominated as an elector for the Illinois Communist Party for the Presidential candidate Gus Hall.

Fern Winston was a member of the Communist Party and involved in the Party’s Women’s Equality Commission.  She was active in Harlem and was married to comrade and political prisoner Henry Winston.

 

Carl Winter (1906-1991) was a Communist Party activist and official.  As early as 1936, Winter held leading posts in the CPUSA in Ohio, Minnesota and California.  From the mid-1940s until the 1960s, he was the Chairman and District Organizer of the Communist Party of Michigan.  He was arrested during the McCarthy era and imprisoned for three and a half years under the Smith Act for conspiracy to overthrow the government.  He was released from prison in 1955, and resumed a leading role in the Communist Party, going on to become the editor-in-chief of The Worker and co-editor of The Daily World.