Thoughtful memoir of an African-American World War II veteran turned communist in red-baiting Jim Crowe America.
In 1946, Peery (Black Fire, 1994) returned from his all-Black infantry combat unit to find the freedoms he fought for abroad denied to him at home. Unable to accept discrimination and eager to channel his military experiences into collective action, he was inexorably drawn to communism. Before long, this card-carrying comrade abandoned his university education to join the bricklayer’s union, his girl to a life on the road and his family when the FBI dragnet tightened around the Party. Peery telescopes his ideological evolution through global, national and personal events, displaying an uncanny knack for being in the thick of things along the way. Stage-managing a meeting between the Blues singer Leadbelly and the Archbishop of Canterbury, sharing a room with a Scottsboro boy on the lam, tipping Harlem preachers off to the efficacy of soapbox sermonizing, rushing his pregnant wife through the Watts Riots—Peery is a born raconteur who nimbly slides from amusing anecdote to intellectualized explanations to seething righteous anger. Clear-eyed and pragmatic, he also carefully recounts Party rifts over race and gender, and betrayals within the black community as some ascended the socio-economic ladder. Although friendships falter, marriages disintegrate and Party leaders succumb to the seductions of power, his commitment to erasing inequality through Communism remains impressively unwavering. The memoir spans just 20 years of his life, so if Peery’s beliefs were tempered by subsequent events, he doesn’t reveal his hand here. He does, however, paint a vivid portrait of the horrors inflicted upon African-Americans during the post-war years. The book ends abruptly, albeit heartbreakingly, in 1966, in a room filled with the keening moans of a bereaved mother, mourning the brutal death-by-police of yet another unarmed black man.
Briskly narrating his uncommon story with verve and passion, Peery leaves readers ready for further installments of his fascinating life.