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Browder, Earl Russell (20 May 1891–27 June 1973), American Communist party (CPUSA) leader, American Communist party (CPUSA) leader, was born in Wichita, Kansas, the son of William Browder, an elementary school teacher, and Martha Hankins. Acute poverty and early politicization marked Browder’s childhood. Kansas was the epicenter of Populism—agrarian protest against federal mercantilist economic policies that protected industry but not agriculture. Wichita suffered a separate calamity: real estate speculation had brought sudden collapse and flight of 30 percent of the population. Even greater hardship befell the Browder family directly. When Earl was nine years old, a nervous breakdown disabled his father, forcing the boy to drop out of third grade to help support his parents and five siblings. At night William Browder tutored him in the “three r’s,” praised Populist heroes, and preached class struggle. Martha Browder imparted passionate anticlericalism, love of literature, and high expectations to all her children. Earl joined the Socialist party in 1906 but never fully overcame his intellectual deprivation. Indeed, he pursued self-improvement projects until his death....

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Burnham, Louis Everett (29 September 1915–12 February 1960), journalist, activist, and radical, was born in Harlem, New York, the son of Charles Breechford Burnham, a building superintendent, and Louise St. Clair Williams Burnham, a hairdresser. His parents had emigrated from Barbados to the United States in search of a better livelihood, and they bought their own property in Harlem and began providing rooms for new Caribbean immigrants. Burnham attended New York City public schools and graduated from Townsend High School in 1932. In the fall of 1932 he enrolled in City College. He became actively involved in student political activities, serving as president of the Frederick Douglass Society and vice president of the student council. Affable, charismatic, and a powerful orator, he often spoke on campus about racial injustice, the threat of fascism to world peace, unemployment, and the plight of American youth. He graduated from City College in 1936....

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Cannon, James (11 February 1890–21 August 1974), revolutionary communist and founder of American Trotskyism, was born in Rosedale, Kansas, to Ann and John Cannon, first-generation Irish immigrants. With the death of his mother in 1904, Jim Cannon began to fend for himself. He lived in a boardinghouse and worked in the rail yards. At the age of sixteen Cannon began to read socialist literature prominent in his father’s house. He returned to school, where he anchored the debate team for a year, but he ran out of money and had to again leave. Meanwhile Cannon and a young teacher, Lista Makimson, cultivated a relationship....

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Childs, Morris (10 June 1902–02 June 1991), Communist official and American intelligence double agent, was born Moishe Chilovsky in Kiev, Ukraine, the son of Joseph Chilovsky, a cobbler, and Anna Chilovsky. Joseph Chilovsky, a Jew, fled Tsarist oppression, arriving in America in 1910; he sent for the rest of his family late the next year. (In 1926 the spelling of their name was Americanized, and Morris became a naturalized citizen the following year.) In 1916 Morris went to work as an apprentice in his father's business; then he became a milkman. In 1919 he joined the Communist party in Chicago. Twice arrested for participating in street demonstrations, he soon became a protégé of future party leader ...

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Crouch, Paul Michael (24 June 1903–18 Nov. 1955), communist and later anticommunist informant for the United States government, was born in Moravian Falls, North Carolina. He was the first child from the 1899 union of Isaac Milas Crouch, a Baptist minister, and Emma Brewer. As a child Crouch enjoyed little formal schooling but read widely and enjoyed telling stories....

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Benjamin J. Davis. Courtesy of the Library of Congress (LC-USZ62-111435).

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Davis, Benjamin Jefferson (08 September 1903–22 August 1964), Communist party leader, was born in Dawson, Georgia, the son of Benjamin Davis, Sr., a publisher and businessman, and Willa Porter. Davis was educated as a secondary-school student at Morehouse in Atlanta. He entered Amherst College in 1922 and graduated in 1925. At Amherst he starred on the football team and pursued lifelong interests in tennis and the violin. He then attended Harvard Law School, from which he graduated in 1928. He was a rarity—an African American from an affluent family in the Deep South; however, his wealth did not spare him from the indignities of racial segregation. While still a student at Amherst, he was arrested in Atlanta for sitting in the white section of a trolley car. Only the intervention of his influential father prevented him from being jailed. As he noted subsequently, it was the horror of Jim Crow—the complex of racial segregation, lynchings, and police brutality—that pushed him toward the political left....

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Eugene Dennis. Front row, left, next to William Z. Foster and Benjamin Davis. Second row, left to right: John Williamson, Henry Winston, and Jacob Stachel. Courtesy of the Library of Congress (LC-USZ62-111436).

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Dennis, Eugene (10 August 1905–31 January 1961), American Communist party leader, was born in Seattle, Washington, as Francis X. Waldron, Jr.; he was to adopt the name he came to be known by in 1935. His father, the son of Irish immigrants, gave his son his own name but little else. The senior Waldron was a railroad worker and ne’er-do-well investor who drank heavily. Dennis’s mother, Nora Veigs, of Norwegian immigrant stock, died when he was eleven. Dennis attended the University of Washington for a single semester, dropping out to support himself....

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Eisler, Gerhart (20 February 1897–21 March 1968), Communist journalist and politician, was born in Leipzig, Germany, the son of Rudolf Eisler, a philosopher, and Marie Ida Fischer. Eisler grew up in Vienna, Austria, where his father was an assistant professor without tenure (Privatdozent) at the university. The socialist sympathies of his parents, his own studies in anarchist and Marxist literature, writing for his school journal, and eventually his experiences as a young officer during World War I were all factors that influenced Eisler’s future. He was active in the revolution in November 1918 and joined the Communist party of German-Austria....

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Ford, James William (22 December 1893–21 June 1957), labor leader and Communist party official, was born James William Foursche in Pratt City, Alabama, the son of Lyman Foursche, steelworker, and Nancy Reynolds, a domestic. Not long after his birth, the family began to use a new surname when a white policeman questioning his father insisted that “Foursche” was too difficult to spell and changed the name to Ford. The most traumatic experience of Ford’s boyhood was the lynching of his grandfather, a Georgia railroad worker. Ford started work at thirteen, joining his father at the Tennessee Coal, Iron and Railroad Company, where he worked as a water boy, mechanic’s helper, and then steam-hammer operator. Nevertheless, he managed to complete high school....

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Fort-Whiteman, Lovett (Dec. 1884–13 Jan. 1939), African American communist, was born Lovett Huey Whiteman in Dallas, Texas, the son of a former slave, Moses Whiteman, and his wife, Elizabeth Fort. In 1917 he changed his name to Lovett Fort-Whiteman, importing his mother’s maiden name into his own, when he joined the Socialist Party in Harlem and started his new career in the theater....

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William Z. Foster. [front row: left to right] Eugene Dennis, William Z. Foster, Benjamin Davis. [back row: left to right] John Williamson, Henry Winston, Jacob Stachel. Courtesy of the Library of Congress (LC-USZ62-111437).

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Foster, William Z. (15 February 1881–01 September 1961), American Communist party leader, was born in Taunton, Massachusetts, the son of James Foster, an Irish immigrant who worked as a carriage washer and livery stableman, and Elizabeth McLaughlin, an English immigrant. Foster grew up in poverty in Philadelphia’s Irish-Catholic slums, where his family moved when he was six. His mother bore her husband twenty-three children, most of whom died in infancy. Elizabeth had hoped that Foster would grow up to become a priest. Instead, he dropped out of school at age ten to support himself with a series of menial jobs....

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Gitlow, Benjamin (22 December 1891–19 July 1965), founder of the American Communist party, was born in Elizabethport, New Jersey, the son of Louis Albert Gitlow and Katherine “Kate” Golman, Russian-Jewish immigrants. His father operated a sewing machine in a New York shirt factory, and his mother took in boarders and did piecework at home. He attended Stuyvesant High School in New York City before becoming a clothing cutter. Growing up in dire poverty in Manhattan’s Lower East Side, Gitlow heard tales of the Russian Socialist movement. He frequented Frederick C. Howe’s forum at Cooper Union and in 1909 joined the Socialist party, becoming the first native-stock member in his Harlem branch. Within a short time Gitlow was named branch organizer and was a member of the party’s county and state committees. He also headed the Retail Clerks Union of New York. Drawn to the ranks of the radical union, the Industrial Workers of the World, Gitlow drew the line at violence. He studied law for two years and in 1917 was nominated by his Socialist party district in the Bronx to run for the state assembly. A stirring orator, he was one of ten Socialists elected to office that year, and he adopted an antiwar stance. The outbreak of the Russian Revolution in November 1917 proved catalytic for Gitlow, who became a leader of the Socialist party’s militant left wing. Initially Gitlow refused to heed the call, largely emanating from foreign-language federations, for a Communist party, believing that the Socialist party could be radicalized. Consequently, Gitlow, along with ...

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Gold, Michael (12 April 1893–14 May 1967), radical intellectual and writer, was born Itzok Isaac Granich on the Lower East Side of New York City, son of Chaim Granich and Gittel Schwartz, Jewish immigrants from Eastern Europe. His father was a storefront manufacturer of suspenders and a peddler but remained destitute all his life. Forced by economic stringency to leave school at age twelve, Mike Gold (at this point calling himself Irwin Granich) held a variety of jobs including night porter and clerk. He said he “had no politics … except hunger,” until he was nineteen. But Gold was radicalized in 1914 when he witnessed and experienced police beatings at a demonstration by the unemployed at Union Square in New York City....

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Gus Hall Courtesy of the Library of Congress.

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Hall, Gus (08 October 1910–13 October 2000), Communist leader, was born Arvo Kusta Halberg in Iron, Minnesota, a small town near Hibbing on the Mesabi Range, the fifth of ten children of Matt Halberg and Susannah Halberg. Both parents were Finnish immigrants and before World War I had been members of the Industrial Workers of the World. Hall's father was a blacklisted miner and, like thousands of his fellow Finns, a charter member of the American Communist party. Gus left school after eighth grade to work in a logging camp in northeastern Minnesota; two years later, in 1927, he joined the Young Communist League and within a year had become an organizer for the YCL in the Upper Midwest....

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Haywood, Harry (4 Feb. 1898–4 Jan. 1985), African American communist, was born Heywood Hall in Omaha, Nebraska, the youngest son of Haywood and Harriet Hall, former slaves. In 1925 Heywood changed his name to Harry Haywood (taking the first names of his mother and father) to mask his application for a passport when he was going to the USSR for political training....

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Jackson, James Edward Jr., (29 Nov. 1914–1 Sept. 2007), communist, black freedom activist, and editor, was born to Clara Kersey Jackson and James E. Jackson, Sr., in Richmond, Virginia. His mother, one of the first women to graduate from Howard University, and father, Richmond’s only black pharmacist, raised Jackson and his sisters to be politically aware. Jackson, Sr. was well-regarded as a local leader, both for fighting segregation in the community and for his business success. Following his father’s influence, Jackson organized the first black troop in Virginia to be admitted to the Boy Scouts of America in ...