Red lion in winter : the life and times of Claude M. Lightfoot
"In August 1985, a 75-year-old man in South Chicago saw an eviction in progress at 8051 South Yates Boulevard. Movers carried the family's goods and possessions out to the street, as police watched nearby. For the old man watching on Yates Boulevard, this was an intolerable reminder of the cruelties of the economic system. It brought back memories of a similar experience on a long-ago afternoon, not unlike this one, fifty years and more in the past. The old man, suffering from heart trouble and emphysema, at times struggling to breathe, had come a long way since then. Then, he was a nervous, frightened young man protesting an eviction, confronted with crowds of people and a phalanx of police. There, in the depths of the Great Depression, he was awakened. The nervous, frightened young man found his courage. He stepped up boldly and ordered the crowd to take the furniture from the street and put it back in the house. He dared the police to stop them. The crowd restored the family to its home and marched away, to nearby Washington Park, singing "We'll hang Herbert Hoover to a sour apple tree, when the Revolution comes!" The old man took in the scene on Yates Boulevard and reflected. He had had a long and active career as an activist and as a thinker. He had been through trials and ordeals that would cause many people to buckle irretrievably under the pressure. He took in the scene and recalled the summer of 1931. "Old men for council, young men for war," an elderly man had admonished him in those bygone days. He remembered being dismayed by this advice, thinking all hands, no matter the age, should be on deck in a time of war. The old man decided that illness and infirmity be damned, he needed to enter the fray one last time. Claude Mack Lightfoot, ex-leader of the Illinois Communist Party, ex-vice chair of the Communist Party USA (CPUSA), traveler, thinker, activist, intellectual, engaging in his last act of protest, joined the crowd and helped restore the James and Barbara Noble family to their home. This thesis examines the long life, trials, travels, and activism of Claude Lightfoot, who was born in Arkansas in 1910 and died in Gary, Indiana at the age of 81 in 1991. This is a biographical and analytical discussion of Lightfoot's life and career and seeks to place him in conversation with other Black Communists and Black radicals of his time. This paper argues that Lightfoot, as one of the few party leaders left standing after the persecutions of the anticommunist McCarthy era, served as a link between the high tide of American communism in the 1930s and 1940s and the party's struggles in the late 1950s, 1960s, and 1970s, as the CPUSA struggled toward relevance once more. It will examine Lightfoot's path to radicalization, early political involvement, his struggles during the years of the Second Red Scare, and his journeys throughout the world in the last quarter-century of his life. It will portray Lightfoot as an advocate, spokesman, and defender of the party on the international stage, as he traveled throughout the world in the 1960s and 1970s, conferring with and learning from party leaders and members in communist countries. This thesis will argue that Claude Mack Lightfoot was a critical figure in the history of Black communism, serving in a multitude of roles for the CPUSA, political activist, roving ambassador, teacher, intellectual, spokesman, and propagandist. Perhaps most importantly, Lightfoot was one of the few leaders in the McCarthy era left to guide the party through the wilderness, helping to lead it, if not to a resurgent revival, at least to a state of relevance, more than mere survival. .... This thesis is organized chronologically. Of necessity, as few sources cover Lightfoot in any great detail, the thesis is based largely on his own autobiography, Chicago Slums to World Politics: Autobiography of Claude M. Lightfoot, released in three editions, in 1970, 1980, and most recently in 1985. The autobiography is written in narrative style and is mostly chronological in format, with a few exceptions. It is a forthright, clearly-written account of his life and work and places him in the middle of several important events such as the National Negro Congress, the Seventh World Congress of the Communist International, and the Red Scare persecutions of the 1940s and 1950s. In addition, the papers of Claude M. Lightfoot, housed in the Chicago History Museum in Chicago, Illinois, form the basis of some of the later sections of the thesis. The collection consists of photographs, letters, book and newspaper column manuscripts, newspaper clippings, translated versions of Lightfoot's published books, and other assorted memorabilia such as certificates, awards, invitations, and event programs. The Lightfoot papers and his autobiography are highly important primary sources that provide an insight into Lightfoot's thoughts and actions throughout his life. While important, there are some notable limitations to the use of such sources. First, the autobiography provides us with Lightfoot's own perspective, always helpful when writing about a historical figure, but also reminds us that he is a political figure with an agenda of his own, and his recollection of events and people could be tinged with his own personal biases. Second, the autobiography makes little mention of Lightfoot's personal life. There is little information about his family, his parents, his first and second wives, and his adopted son. Third, the bulk of Lightfoot's papers date from after 1961, with the vast majority dating from the 1970s. There is precious little in the archive from prior to 1961 and after 1980. This lack of primary source material forces us to lean heavily on the autobiography to tell the story of Lightfoot's first fifty years. Nevertheless, there is enough in both the autobiography and the Lightfoot papers for a thorough study of his life and career."--Introduction.