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The Communist Party and Black Liberation
Lawson, Elizabeth, Study Outline – History of the American Negro People, 1619-1918 (New York: Workers Book Shop, 1939).
From inside cover: “This [study] outline was prepared on the basis of a series of lectures delivered by Elizabeth Lawson, Chairman, History Department, New York Workers School”. A 1954 article in the Negro History Bulletin recommended this book as a source for teaching Black history in secondary schools. It is an important document for studying the role of the Communist Party in the fight for racial equality.
The New York Workers School was an ideological training center of the Communist Party USA (CPUSA). Elizabeth Lawson, the pseudonym of Elsa Block, was a longtime Communist Party member and important voice for the Party, although much remains unclear about her true identity. As a teacher at the Workers School in the 1930s, she helped develop African American history courses that were intended to appeal both to black workers and to combat prejudice among whites. She was an associate and mentor of Herbert Aptheker, the prominent Communist historian who challenged racist writings and led the way on the study of the anti-slavery struggle. Lawson arranged for Aptheker to lecture on black history in courses she had developed, introduced him to leading Black activists, and promoted his speaking engagements to Black audiences.
From 1933-37, Lawson, writing under the pen name Jim Mallory, briefly served as editor of The Southern Worker, a regional newspaper of the CPUSA. While the paper addressed issues of labor broadly, it reflected and spoke to the concerns of Black laborers specifically, with an intentional focus on racist Jim Crow laws that prevented access to jobs to Black workers.