Anti-Communism, Gender, and Race in the Depression Era South

Saturday, January 6, 2018
Atrium (Marriott Wardman Park)
Katherine Frances Cayton, University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill
In 1932 Georgia Governor Eugene Talmadge, reportedly linked to the Ku Klux Klan, hosted an anti-communist rally with the aim of taking on “Negroes, the New Deal, and (…) Karl Marx.” Talmadge was one of many anti-communists who used racial and gendered appeals to target threats of communism in the United States. This presentation will discuss how these anti-communists organized inside and outside of government arteries in order to target pro-black communist organizing. It will explore how white anti-communist groups, including the Ku Klux Klan, appealed to racial tensions in order to undercut the budding pro-black communist movement in the American South during the 1930s.

Scholars of American politics have long situated anti-communism in the United States within discussions of race, academia, and gender. This dialogue is primarily focused in the years following World War II, when national dialogues on race and communism occupied the center of American public opinion, policy, and national events. Framed within the context of the McCarthyism, the Cold War, and the Civil Rights Movement, anti-communists used racialized, hyper-sexual themes and rhetoric to gain support. This language proved successful in undermining the communist movement. However, this racial approach to anti-communism was not a foregone conclusion. In order to understand the efficacy of anti-communist actions in the latter part of the twentieth century, it is important to understand the origins of anti-black anti-communism.

The Great Depression provided a unique opportunity for the Communist Party of the United States (CPUSA) to promote the failures of capitalism. Drawing on the racial history of the American South, the CPUSA recruited black southerners with the promise of civil rights and racial equality. This success of black communism elicited a strong response from white Southern anti-communists. These anti-communists linked racial equality with communism by exploiting negative stereotypes of black people, such as the image of a predatory black man threatening white women. This presentation will explore how groups like the Ku Klux Klan and local government entities partnered to attack liberalism and perceived communism threats by targeting interracial and co-gendered environments like Universities using pamphlets, protests, and vigilante and police violence.

See more of: Undergraduate Poster Session
See more of: AHA Sessions