Newly declassified documents from Operation SOLO, an FBI program to infiltrate the Communist Party of the United States, reveal that a journal called Freedomways, which was influential in the black community for decades, was subsidized by the Soviet and Chinese Communist Parties.
Freedomways has been called “one of the most influential African-American literary and political journals of the 1960s and 1970s.” It began in 1961 and ceased publication in 1986.
During the 25 years it served as a propaganda organ for the CPUSA and Soviet front organizations such as the World Peace Council, Freedomways published articles by such figures as:
- Derrick Bell, one of Barack Obama’s academic mentors and a Harvard professor;
- Martin Luther King, Jr., the slain civil rights leader who turned against the Vietnam War and has been honored with a national memorial in Washington, D.C.;
- John Lewis, a Democratic member of Congress from Georgia and critic of the conservative Tea Party movement; and
- Jesse Jackson, a former aide to King and Democratic candidate for president who has recently been stirring up racial resentment over the killing of black teenager Trayvon Martin.
Freedomways grew out of a Soviet campaign, launched after the Russian revolution, to exploit the “Negro question” in the U.S. and manipulate blacks and members of other minority groups for Communist purposes. The goal was a “Soviet America.”
In 1981, a communist-inspired Black Liberation Army, with the help of the Weather Underground, waged a campaign of terrorism and murder that resulted in the deaths of two police officers and a Brinks guard.
The SOLO documents demonstrate that the Soviet Union illegally provided funding, reportedly more than $28 million, to the CPUSA. The documents are based on FBI informants, Morris and Jack Childs, who had infiltrated the highest levels of the CPUSA and had participated in meetings with foreign communist parties.
President Ronald Reagan awarded Morris Childs (and posthumously, Jack) with the Presidential Medal of Freedom for their work for the U.S.
An FBI memo dated March 3, 1959, which summarized a meeting between CPUSA officials and the Soviet Communist Party, reveals that CPUSA official James Jackson had asked Soviet officials about “the possibility of a Negro magazine dealing with theoretical questions.” Jackson was the party secretary in charge of “Negro and southern affairs.”
Freedomways came into being two years later.
An FBI memorandum, dated July 6,1961, refers to funding for the CPUSA from the Communist Parties of the Soviet Union and China, including $5,000 to CPUSA chairman Gus Hall “for Negro publication ‘Freedomways Associates, Inc.,’” the publisher of Freedomways.
A June 8, 1962, FBI memorandum refers to $3,000 “To Isodore Wofsy for transmittal to Esther Jackson, CP functionary for use of Negro magazine ‘Freedomways.’” Wofsy was another important CPUSA member.
Esther Jackson, wife of James Jackson, was a CPUSA member who served as managing editor of Freedomways.
Freedomways was so extreme that it ran a notice hailing Angela Davis as a “courageous Black woman leader” when she went on trial for murder. Davis, who beat the murder rap, became a prominent CPUSA official and college professor at the University of California at Santa Cruz. She later started an anti-prison project, Critical Resistance, funded by the Open Society Institute of billionaire George Soros.
Despite his reputation as a moderate, Martin Luther King, Jr. paid tribute to W.E.B. Du Bois, who himself joined the CPUSA in 1961, at an event sponsored by Freedomways in New York City.
Du Bois had said, in joining the party: “Capitalism cannot reform itself; it is doomed to self-destruction. No universal selfishness can bring social good to all. Communism—the effort to give all men what they need and to ask of each the best they can contribute—this is the only way of human life. It is a difficult and hard end to reach, it has and will make mistakes, but today it marches triumphantly on in education and science, in home and food, with increased freedom of thought and deliverance from dogma. In the end communism will triumph. I want to help bring that day.”
“It is time to cease muting the fact that Dr. Du Bois was a genius and chose to be a Communist,” King said, in remarks published in Freedomways magazine. “Our irrational obsessive anti-communism has led us into too many quagmires to be retained as if it were a mode of scientific thinking.”
One of King’s closest advisers was Freedomways editor J.H. O’Dell, also known as Hunter Pitts O’Dell, a secret member of the CPUSA who would later join Jesse Jackson’s Operation PUSH. Another King adviser was New York attorney Stanley Levison, who had been involved in Communist Party financial affairs and was helping to arrange funding of the party by Moscow. He had recommended O’Dell to King.
The Kennedy brothers, President John F. Kennedy and Attorney General Robert F. Kennedy, had warned Martin Luther King, Jr. against associating with communists. He ignored their warnings.
Jesse Jackson, one of King’s aides and considered by some to be King’s successor as the nation’s premier civil rights activist, was hailed by Freedomways as a “nationally known Freedom Fighter” when it ran his 1972 article on “Three Challenges to Organized Labor.”
Rep. Lewis, regarded by many as a civil rights icon like Martin Luther King, Jr., wrote a 1965 Freedomways article, “Paul Robeson: Inspirer of Youth,” about the famous actor and singer who had been a member of the CPUSA and admirer of Soviet dictator Joseph Stalin.
“He [Robeson] talked and listened to the representatives of the Communist Party,” wrote Lewis, then national chairman of the Student Non-Violent Coordinating Committee (SNCC). “In many ways,” he wrote, “we of SNCC are Paul Robeson’s spiritual children.”
In fact, former CPUSA official Manning Johnson testified in 1949 that that he saw Robeson “a number of times in the headquarters” of the CPUSA and that Robeson was, in fact, a party member. Johnson said Robeson wanted to be “the Black Stalin among Negroes.”
“Paul’s assignment was to work among the intellectuals, the professionals, and artists that the party was seeking to penetrate and influence along Communist lines,” Johnson testified.
In one of his more controversial statements, Robeson said that “American Negroes would never go to war against Russia,” because blacks loved Russia so much.
Although he invoked the Fifth Amendment when asked by a congressional committee about his party membership, the CPUSA admitted his party membership after his death.
Freedomways called Robeson a “Freedom fighter of the first magnitude” and ran an article headlined, “Paul Robeson: Great Friend of the Soviet People,” written by a Soviet journalist.
Rep. Lewis become famous in his own right, since his days with SNCC, when he and his Congressional Black Caucus colleagues claimed in 2010 the N-word was “shouted” at him by Tea Party members, when no camera recorded anything of the sort. Andrew Breitbart had promised $100,000 to anyone who could prove the epithets had been used.
For many years, black groups such as the NAACP were bitter foes of the CPUSA, knowing that its politics were divisive and not designed to foster racial harmony. NAACP official Herbert Hill wrote a famous article, “The Communist Party—Enemy of Negro Equality.”
When Communist Party member Frank Marshall Davis tried to stage a takeover of the Hawaii NAACP in 1949, the organization fought back, saying it did not want “unity” with the communists. Davis, who had moved from Chicago to Hawaii at the suggestion of Paul Robeson, was Barack Obama’s mentor for eight years in Hawaii before Obama went off to college.
In 1949, Jackie Robinson, the first black player in baseball, testified before the House Committee on Un-American Activities in opposition to communist manipulation of blacks. He said Robeson’s statement about blacks loving the Soviet Union was “silly” and added, “We can win our fight without the Communists and we don’t want their help.”
But Freedomways, the communists and their fellow-travelers continued to make inroads in the black community.
Other writers for Freedomways included:
- Entertainer Harry Belafonte, a fundraiser for Elizabeth Warren in her Massachusetts Senate race;
- Julian Bond, former chairman of the NAACP and current member of the board of the Southern Poverty Law Center;
- Howard Zinn, the leftist “historian” and CPUSA member;
- Rep. John Conyers; and
- Then-Rep. Ronald V. Dellums, described by the publication as being “in the forefront of the New Breed of young Congressmen who are a clear voice for the kind of basic social changes the United States needs.”
The FBI says that Operation SOLO was launched because “America’s growing realization of the penetration of the U.S. government by the Soviets and the subsequent political debate over the role of communism in society became the focus of the day.”
It would appear that some of the documents, viewed in light of current events, demonstrate a lasting impact by the Communists on many black leaders, including Obama himself.
Cliff Kincaid is the Director of the AIM Center for Investigative Journalism, and can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org.