Benjamin J. Davis : Jr. And Sr. (Episode 8 of 14); Black power origins
There are a few father son comparisons in American Negro annals more worthy of study than that of Benjamin J Davis Jr. and Sr. the father a. Leading Republican politician in Georgia the son the only member of the Communist party ever to win an elective office in the United States at least as far as this researcher's. Ben Sr. led a tortured life of political confusion in the heyday of Booker T Washington he alternated between praise and blame for the Diski conciliatory approach to politics. A deep believer in the viability of Negro business he lived long enough to see it ruined in the Depression. Davis was the owner and editor of the strongly Republican Atlanta independent. In the 1920s he fought successfully to become a National Republican Committee man from Georgia and consequently suffered a Ku Klux Klan cross to be burned on his lawn only to have Hoover jilt him and his efforts by purging him
from his post as part of concessions to lily white Republicans. His contribution to his son seems to have been to prove by case history that working within established American political parties was useless for the nichrome. The elder Davis had worked hard to amass a sizable sum of money and much community prestige. He wished to have his son become a respected man of the upper echelon of the black bourgeoisie. And yet out of some subliminal pride in his bricklayer origins Ben Sr. saw to it that his son tasted of the drudgery of work. The job selected for young Ben was not a very trying one. He was to be a chauffeur for Professor John Hope of Morehouse College. Ben Sr. even helped Dr. Hope purchase the Dodge car which young Ben would drive. The future communist leader did not take readily to the task of playing the proletariat. He would leave the family estate in his Pierce Arrow drive to Morehouse and take hope out in the
dodge. On one occasion when a tire blew out the young band jumped out of the car and started running. The startled hope inquired. Where you going. To the drugstore to phone. What for. Just hope to get someone to change that tire. You come back here and you fix that tire or you'll get fired. That hope so the future friend of toilers sweated underneath and around that 1920 car for two hours getting all the while increasingly messy and mad. Meanwhile Hope sat in the car busy with his portfolio silent and encouraging. When the new tire was finally in place Hope had the youth drive him to his destination hardly saying a word. But later that evening they met again and Hope's face lit up with amusement as he placed a hand affectionately on the young man's shoulder saying. Now bam you had your first experience working for someone else. Ben Sr. carefully arranged a rigid educational background for his son.
At the age of 11 he sent him to Morehouse as was the practice of the time a favored few Southern negroes were taken out of regular school systems at a very young age and sent to special college preparatory sections of leading Afro colleges. Ben Jr. spent six years in Morehouse preparatory and one in college after which he transferred Amhurst where he graduated one thousand twenty five. He obtained a law degree from Harvard Law School and one thousand twenty nine. Collegiate years are of course educational in more than just I'm a cumulation of semester units and it is worth considering the effect on young band of his father's actions during the son's years in college. Exaggerated outburst of rhetoric were a regular feature of band seniors journalism and its newspaper The Independent. While younger Davis was often am Hearst's father made national news in the Negro press for an outspoken defense of the
morals of Southern whites. The defense of the South was called forth as a reply to a Chicago Defender article on race mixing said an irate Davis. It is not true. As the Chicago Defender states that the white men of the South defiant approach are women. But it is true that Negro men in the north mix with white women in the slums and dives and white men of the North mixed with Negro Women of the slums and dives. And in each case neither the Negrito nor the white man are of the best mind and thought of the north. He concluded that race mixing was immoral. And this apology for the letters of debauch Dixie and the holier than thou good nigger better than bad Negra. Drew sharp criticism from Northern Neck grows daunted Davis wrote another column saying that. Quote The social mixing of white men and Negra women
or of colored men and white women is practically unknown in the south and white men in the south make no effort to take advantage of Negro Women of the South. Good or bad. Wherever such conduct obtains and the cases are far and wide between the negro woman is as much or more responsible than the white man. The Pittsburgh Courier asked Davis from whence came all those light skinned nigro. Davis Sr. was a crusading Republican. In 1927 while a son is in college he succeeded in his long battle to become the next national committeeman from Georgia. To keep his post he had to fight not only with the clan but also with lily white Republicans. He offered as his best defense his loyalty to the party in the election one thousand twenty eight he totally castigated a group of Georgian negroes who formed an independent democratic alternative
to the Republicans. Quote We are not going to get out of the ship and into the sea said Davis drawing on the ancient argument of Frederick Douglass. And he went on to make clear that he was not implying there was nowhere else to go except to the Republicans. He was not being forced to vote. We cannot be bought by Democratic money nor bulldozed by lily white Republicans. Well shortly after the election he was in fact pushed out of this committee post by lily white Republicans the lily white Republicans were that that faction of the Republican party wishing to set up segregated white only Republican Party in the south. Just about anybody of importance was fair game for an occasional vitriolic diatribe from the pen of Ben Davis Sr. in 1923. Damned Kelly Miller or William and Rove trotters sponsorship of the San Hedren. Which was cool.
Big composed of Urban League and notable They were educators. According to Davis quote It was the same the same old gang who has misrepresented the race for 25 years. Leaders who exploit the rank and file of their organizations in Davis picturesque description of the Sanhedrin the members were clerks demagogues agitators non property holders and professional self-styled leaders for bread and butter. With this background a young band entered the field of law. The background of his father's activities two years in the law field. And he was a member of the Communist Party. And explaining how the son of a black aristocrat broke with tradition and Jr. implied that he was merely having a spontaneous reaction to the oppression of his people. Quote My impression of the communist was formed
during the period of Scottsboro case which appear demised in all its horrible completeness the plight of the negro and at the same time symbolize the zealously executed and correct policy of the Communist Party. The immediate cause for joining. Communism was not Scottsburg for but his experience as a defense lawyer in the celebrated Angelo Herndon case of 1932 33. Quoting them again. Credit for recruiting me into the party goes to judge Leiby Wyatt who had been summoned from the backwoods hinterland of the state to hear the case. So crude and viciously unconstitutional and anti Negro were his rulings that my instant joining of the Communist Party was the only effective reply I could give. Although Herndon his client was convicted Davis had made quite a name for himself in his rigorous defense and his legal maneuvers laid the basis for a higher court decision overruling the conviction and setting her new free.
Davis denounced the exclusion of negroes from the jury roles in the prejudiced and or use of anti negro language by the prosecutors and the young defense attorney made much of the fact that Herndon was on trial under an obscure Georgia insurrection law which was allegedly violated in passing out leaflets supporting communism. Davis retorted to this by drawing down obscure laws of his own the civil rights laws of reconstruction which had since been repealed. The civil rights laws of the. State of Georgia Davis argued that the repeal of these acts had been achieved by an un sconce to touche and only constituted racist government in Georgia. He declared the existing state constitution was illegal. Herndon in an account of the trial that he wrote
said and I quote The judge glowered at the Negril attorney who dared challenge white justice. But young Mr Davis could not be put out of faced by any display of white superiority unafraid and with the dignity of a man who knows is worth the thought both judge and prosecutor with great energy. I was fortunate in having him for my lawyer. There was a sympathetic communication between us throughout the course of the trial which sustained our spirits and the general hostility against us. Shortly after the Herndon trial Davis changed his place of residence from Georgia to New York. In one thousand thirty five he was named as editor of the new Harlem Weekly of the Communist Party the negro liberator. Later he would join the staff of The Daily Worker. His most noteworthy achievement was the winning of a seat on the New York City Council a feat he pulled off in 1943 and again in 1945. Engaging in politics. Davis was far more than a party official. He skillfully built
a system of ties and support among wide variety of Harlem's leftists and liberals and showed that he had taken from his father far more than a striking physical resemblance to the Harlem populist young Davis was known as fighting band a defender of the race which implied that he had retained the attempted personal integrity of his father while dispensing with the mental confusion which led the older Davis to alienate supporters almost as fast as he made them during the 1940s Davis was a respected community figure and he might be found walking the streets of Harlem or on the tennis court with his sportsman friends. By the election of 1945 Davis was powerful enough to win the endorsement of two of the three Harlem weeklies. The left us people's voice and the Republican New York age terming him quote a brilliant and forceful councilman. The age held that on his record alone Councilman Davis deserves re-election. Not even his most severe critic can ever
accuse Mr. Davis of ever having a spouse to any cause in the city council except the cause of American democracy which is more than can be said of some other councilman elected on major party tickets. Among the many non communist leaders in the community endorsing him in 1945 where Dr Channing Tobias of the National YMCA Edward S. Lewis head of the New York Urban League and James E.. Allen president of the New York and other Lacy P.. Early in the campaign even had the support of Tammany Hall which was later withdrawn. However on the eve of the election it appeared that if Davis were to win it would be solely on his community power on his support among those campaigning 1045 was not an easy one the voting was on a city wide basis with the top vote catchers winning council seats. And white left this aside from the communist were aligned solidly behind the
Merrill t campaign of Democrat William O'Dwyer who had strongly denounced Davis the Liberal Party candidate Jonah day. Jay Goldstein was making a strong bid for the mayor's position and his party had run the only opposition candidate to Davis the powerful Philip Randolph had worked hard in Harlem in behalf of the Liberal Party and had raised the red bogey against Davis. But when the votes were in. Davis had won a seat by 63000. It's a scene in this selection Davis relied on race support and his approach to communism he was an able advocate of the dual position of the party and stressing it one in the same time the need for Negro action and unity coupled with a conscientious attempt at coalitions with the working class whites writing in 1947 he argued quote the broadest unity of the negro peoples movement on a local and national scale is
not only crucial but is the deepest desire of the Nigro people. Davis had in mind a unity of the end of the ACP Urban League national negro Council National Council of Negro Women quote the national church bodies and faiths the United Negro and Allied Veterans fraternal and Greek letter groups and above all the Negril workers. And what a powerful force of Negra people would have if such a grouping could be brought together. Quote on a minimal program to advance the free and equal citizenship of the Negro people. Davis never got the opportunity to try out this program. He might have been quite good at leading such a coalition. And as years a city councilman he showed an ability to act above and beyond their own Marxian revolutionary precepts. In fact extreme left wing groups like Trotskyites Phil Davis and the party were not
acting Marxian in the slightest but rather like milktoast new dealers. The whole question was made academic by the McCarthyite terror in 1948 Davis was indicted under the Smith Act and charged with being an agent of a foreign power. The immediate effect was not nearly as calamitous as the long term consequences do is trial. Davis brought the fighting spirit of his past he told to Foley Square court quote I will not be intimidated by the lynchers court in Georgia and I will not be intimidated by any court by any forces of reaction anywhere and neither will my people in my party. What the court could not do jail accomplished. Davis was silenced. Meanwhile a new breed of radicals emerged. The civil rights movement was born afresh and new issues and coalitions were in the offing. Africa was nominally free. Then in 1961 Ben Davis was released from prison. He returned to Harlem once
more to walk the streets to talk with the people. But no one was listening to Communist. Malcolm X had the floor and if not the black nationalist then the young leaders of core and Sneck who was going to be interested in a fighting coalition of the end of the ACP an Urban League and the party had done little in the way of revising its program since Davis was first arrested. Moreover there was precious little time for Davis to get a climate ties to the weather signals of the new political tornado. On March 15th one thousand sixty two. He was again picked up by federal police this time under the McCarran act and once again valuable time and energy was consumed in a legal defense. A successful one for whatever it was worth. Davis died in New York August 22nd 964 at the age of 60. A personal friend remembers Ben Davis Jr. for his many you murder stories about his conservative old man in Georgia. Ben Jr. had worked hard
- Black power origins
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- Ted Vincent compares Benjamin J. Davis, Jr. and his father, Benjamin J. Davis, Sr. The elder Davis is a Black Republican from Georgia, and his son a Communist city councilman in New York.
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- Davis, Benjamin J., 1870-1945; Davis, Benjamin J. (Benjamin Jefferson), 1903-1964; African Americans--Civil rights--History
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