“Book Review: Kelly’s Hammer and Hoe.”
Noted historian and public intellectual Robin D.G. Kelley is brilliant, productive, and talented. But all this could be seen in the beginning of his career a quarter of a century ago when the University of North Carolina Press published Hammer and Hoe: Alabama Communists During the Great Depression.
By Alabama communists, Kelley means, for the most part, black Alabamans, workers, miners, agricultural workers, trade unionists who struggled through the 1930s to build a communist party against the forces of the armed state and fascist right-wing terrorists who beat, shot, assaulted, raped, and murdered people who tried to unite and fight for better wages and a better way of life.
Who knew that there were hundreds, possibly thousands, of black communists organizing in Alabama during the 1930s? Well, Robin D.G. Kelley did. And his book is nothing short of a revelation.
This hidden little-known history of black revolutionaries organizing at a time of fascist reaction in America, and especially Alabama, is what I call underground history: history lived at a high level of resistance, seldom reported and afterwards all but forgotten, reminds us that black history is often revolutionary history.
Yet it is rarely acknowledged as such. Kelley’s usage of personal interviews with former party members, his study of union newsletters and files of groups active during the Depression, gives us valuable insights into how revolutionary black life was lived during times of stark repression.
Sometimes a book comes along that transforms our thinking of how history is understood. For example, Herbert Aptheker’s American Negro Slave Revolts or C.L.R. James’ Black Jacobins on the Haitian Revolution changed everything that preceded it as well as all that followed. Robin D.G. Kelley, remarkable work, Hammer and Hoe, originally published in 1990.
From imprisoned nation, this is Mumia Abu-Jamal.
These commentaries are recorded by Noelle Hanrahan of Prison Radio.