A series of fascinating footnotes to the story of American communism, civil rights, and Richard Wright.
Former Atlanta Journal-Constitution reporter and editor Beasley (Without Mercy: The Stunning True Story of Race, Crime, and Corruption in the Deep South, 2014, etc.) explains that the genesis for the recounting of the interracial marriage between Herbert and Jane Newton came from an inquiry from a French scholar concerning work he was doing on Wright and the writing of Native Son, during a time when Wright was living with the Newtons. Jane was initially reluctant to revisit that period, so long after she had divorced Herbert and had become the city clerk in Santa Barbara, a conservative California enclave where the Red Scare still lingered. But once she started corresponding on her days as a communist, she found it hard to stop. She was the daughter of a well-to-do Michigan family, with a father who became head of the American Legion. She became radicalized during the Great Depression, and her relationship with and marriage to Newton, whose communist activities were perceived as a threat, were considered such a moral aberration that the only way she avoided jail was with a short commitment to a psychiatric hospital, because “a daughter of such a prominent white family would have to be insane to turn her back on such an upbringing and marry a black Communist.” The book’s perspective finds the communist plan of promoting violent revolution in the American South to be misguided at best, but Beasley celebrates Jane as an unsung hero. “On Communism, Jane had been on the wrong side of history," he writes. “But on race in America, she was decades ahead of her time.” Though by no means a thorough history, the narrative also touches on schisms in the Communist Party, differences in goals within the civil rights movement, and the unhappy success of Wright, who spent his last years in Paris, estranged from his homeland.
A concise book that shines a light on some largely forgotten history.