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Hammer and Hoe: Alabama Communists During the Great Depression
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Hammer and Hoe: Alabama Communists During the Great Depression

(Fred W. Morrison Series in Southern Studies)

4.26  ·  Rating details ·  503 ratings  ·  25 reviews
Between 1929 and 1941, the Communist Party organized and led a radical, militantly antiracist movement in Alabama -- the center of Party activity in the Depression South. Hammer and Hoe documents the efforts of the Alabama Communist Party and its allies to secure racial, economic, and political reforms. Sensitive to the complexities of gender, race, culture and class witho ...more
Paperback, 392 pages
Published November 16th 1990 by University of North Carolina Press (first published January 1st 1990)
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4.26  · 
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 ·  503 ratings  ·  25 reviews

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Dec 23, 2016 rated it really liked it
Much of this information is new to me, so I can't critique the book on grounds of inaccuracies, etc.

A really thorough and enlightening study on communist and labour organising in the American South. This book goes a long way towards demonstrating how American anticommunism is deeply rooted in white supremacy. In some ways, it is also a depressing read--Kelley talks about how a young black man was arrested once, and subject to police brutality, simply because he was having a seizure and a theatre
Jan 22, 2012 rated it it was amazing
So good on so many levels. Incredibly informative on the central role the Communist Party played in racial and economic justice fights in the South, nuanced portrait of the party's various strategic shifts, incredibly interesting and useful description of how the party was Marxist at its core and drew off of what was going on in the Soviet Union and the directives that came from Moscow and New York's central committee while also being reshaped by local, indigenous forms of African-American resis ...more
The inability to permanently organize the working class in the US South marks the historical failure of labor activists to improve the overall conditions of the working class. But the elephant in the room is actually the failure to maintain a labor movement dedicated to smashing racism within the white working class (see The Wages of Whiteness: Race and the Making of the American Working Class) and in solidarity with the entire needs of laboring people. Hammer and Hoe presents an important (and ...more
Ai Miller
This book was really a delight. I strongly recommend getting the 25th-anniversary edition if you can find it, because my #1 favorite part was in that (a quotation from Lemon Johnson--god it was so good, ahh.) In a lot of ways, this is definitely a product of its time; it reads just like an old-school labor history book, and it can be very easy to get lost amid all the names and acronyms (and Kelley for some reason decided to just dive into those and not do like a first-reference full name thing, ...more
Feb 09, 2018 rated it it was amazing
This book is a key text in understanding the long term fall of Jim Crow and the continued resistance to white supremacy in the years before the Civil Rights era. It details how the oppositional nature of the Communist Party in the early 1930s made it a mostly African-American organization in Alabama, coupled with the construction of the Sharecroppers Union. The repression against the CP in Alabama was brutal and naked in violence. Interestingly, when the party switched to the Popular Front model ...more
Derek Ide
Sep 28, 2016 rated it it was amazing
I wrote recently in a review that "Detroit: I Do Mind Dying" was the best book I had read in 2016. "Hammer and Hoe" gives it a run for its money. The year 2016 is a dark, bleak time for the left all over the world, but especially in the United States. These two books gave me life. They made me feel for a brief time that another world was indeed possible, and for that I can't thank Robin Kelley enough!
Jul 08, 2013 rated it really liked it
Well written history of the Communist Party in Alabama in the '30s. The work of the Communists in the early '30s in Alabama was impressive. The party was forced to be largely an underground organization, despite their attempts to be able to organize openly. They were subject to constant violent suppression by police & vigilantes. During the early '30s their message of social & political equality between blacks & whites meant that their support was mainly among blacks, especially farm ...more
Diana Eidson
Mar 21, 2014 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: favorites
This book is phenomenal. A must-read for any scholar, activist, or student of labor history. Growing up in the South, I was not aware that there was such a rich, radical history in Alabama. This story is not told in schools. The hegemony does not want students to rise up and revolt. Labor unions in Alabama during the Great Depression represents one of the many stories left out of school curricula.

I admire all of the figures recounted in the book, and I have used this book in two classes--one un
Harvey Smith
Feb 24, 2013 rated it it was amazing
For people who don't know about the great history of communists in the south, this book is a must read. We read about the movement but all to often the communist role is barely mentioned or left out of history entirely
Apr 28, 2010 rated it really liked it
Shelves: history, non-fiction
This book helped me understand how a southern poor white can continue to vote in contradiction to their needs.
Jan 21, 2019 rated it really liked it
Shelves: rural-america
It is hard to locate exactly how much of Robin Kelley's Hammer and Hoe can be considered useful to a political understanding of rural America in the 1930s and 40s, especially as it seems like the history is such an exceptional chapter in labor history, political history, and African-American history. Yet his intervention is valuable because he focuses on the particular resonances of Communist ideology for Birmingham and Birmingham-adjacent African-Americans in the era--a community that had yet t ...more
Rick Edwards
Aug 01, 2017 rated it it was amazing
This book was eye-opening for me. The author carefully and closely narrates the work of Alabama Communists during the New Deal era. I am an Alabama native and knew very little of this story, yet much of it took place practically in my back yard. In difficult circumstances these activists made a difference in union organizing efforts in the mining and steel industries as well as among sharecroppers. They played a role in voting rights campaigns more than two decades before the civil rights moveme ...more
Jun 15, 2018 rated it it was amazing
An essential read for anyone interested in anything related to the subject (left wing politics, African American history, the Popular Front era, history of the American South, etc). It reads more as a detailed narrative than a theoretical or thematic discussion; such work is left to the preface, introduction, and conclusion. As such some of the curious social dynamics of 20th century Alabama and the CPUSA itself are less explored than they could be; but I think that would be asking too much of t ...more
David Bates
Mar 02, 2013 rated it really liked it
Robin Kelley’s 1990 work Hammer and Hoe tells the story of the Communist Party in Alabama during the Great Depression. The fruit of a dissertation comparing the Communist Party’s opposition to apartheid regimes in Alabama and South Africa, Kelley’s work attempts to provide an account of party organizing from the ground up, constructing “a narrative that examines Communist political opposition through the lenses of social and cultural history, paying particular attention to the worlds from which ...more
Mar 28, 2018 rated it it was amazing
Long live the Alabama Communist Party!
Oct 31, 2018 rated it really liked it
Shelves: 2018
Enjoyed reading the history of the Communist Party in the South. To bad that racism got in the way of it building into great change for our south and nation. Definitely could use the blueprint for our futures.
very interesting. Kelley told some tragic and amazing stories of the black communities in Alabama. I mean killing black americans for the sake of killing black americans: raping and killing women; lynching children and the elderly; killing men in the back seat of police cruisers as though their lives were as expendable as toilet paper.
for me, the most dramatic and moving element of Kelley's book was paralleling it to today. Black lives are still consistently ruined/ended by the police force; wh
Jul 11, 2009 rated it it was amazing
if you think you know what socialism and/or communism is, you most likely don't. at least i didn't until i read this book for a graduate course on social movements. american communism helped thousands in the early 20th century and yes, it was ruined by stalinism. this treatise, an expanded version of kelley's doctoral dissertation, shows how CPA helped oppressed workers, particularly african americans and women. bottom line-- really shows how the u.s. has made communism a bigger bogeyman than it ...more
Jun 30, 2007 rated it really liked it
I was really surprised at the depth of this book. I'm not sure what I was expecting, but the book took me through a pretty detailed history of race and uprisings in the south, particularly in Alabama, from a communist perspective. Black workers unionizing and organizing against their white bosses, and the ways the white bosses devised in order to keep the black folks down, and the mounting tensions between the two, just two decades before the beginnings of the civil rights movement as we know it ...more
Tony Flemmer
Jan 02, 2014 rated it really liked it
An important, forgotten history of the role that American communists played in building an inter-racial movement against exploitation, poverty, and racist violence. This book also demonstrates the disastrous effects that Stalinist control of the communist international had on American politics, specifically the Comintern's policy of building a "popular front" and united the working class to the politics of ruling class liberals.
Jul 25, 2012 rated it really liked it
One of a handful of books from grad school I intend to revisit out of pure interest rather than academic content. Eye opening about the involvement of the Communist party in the deep south during the Great Depression and the impact that had on race relations. Again - eye opening. Coming from a "historian," that's a good recommendation.

Suggested for those who are interested in historical non-fiction.
Jun 14, 2009 rated it really liked it
Shelves: history
Sharecroppers and communists, what a great combination.
Apr 03, 2016 rated it it was amazing
Being from Alabama, this book blew me away.
Jul 08, 2009 rated it it was amazing
Well, everyone knows the CPUSA was composed of white urban laborers. What this book presupposes is... maybe it wasn't.
rated it it was amazing
Nov 07, 2013
Makers And
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Jun 06, 2013
Carl Pinkston
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Nov 03, 2014
Jon Dunning
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Oct 22, 2017
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Dec 29, 2016
Abel B
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Dec 25, 2018
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Robin D.G. Kelley (b. 1962) is a professor of history and American studies and ethnicity at the University of Southern California. From 2003-2006, he was the William B. Ransford Professor of Cultural and Historical Studies at Columbia University. From 1994-2003, he was a professor of history and Africana Studies at New York University as well the chairman of NYU's history department from 2002-2003 ...more

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