Theory and Practice

“I wasn’t prepared for characters such as Lemon Johnson, a former member of the Communist-led Share Croppers Union. In December 1986, I visited Johnson at his home in rural Montgomery County, which I described in my journal as “a tiny, run-down shack with battered wooden walls, a rusted tin roof that had begun to cave in, and a porch stocked with three rickety chairs.” He fed me a huge lunch of collard greens, beans, Wonder Bread, fried chicken, and a slice of cake. We ate outside and talked for a while; when it became unbearably cold, we moved inside. I sat on his bed as he slouched in a wooden chair next to me. A faded picture of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. was tacked to the wall above his head. He told me stories about the 1935 cotton pickers’ strike, Stalin’s pledge to send troops to Mobile to help black sharecroppers if things got out of hand, and the night a well-armed group of women set out to avenge their comrades who had been beaten or killed during the strike. When I asked Mr. Johnson how the union succeeded in winning some of their demands, without the slightest hesitation he reached into the drawer of his nightstand and pulled out a dog-eared copy of V. I. Lenin’s What Is to Be Done and a box of shotgun shells, set both firmly on the bed next to me, and said, “Right thar, theory and practice. That’s how we did it. Theory and practice.

Hammer and Hoe:
Alabama Communists during the Great Depression

by Robin D. G. Kelley
pp. XIV-XV