The Other Blacklist

The African American Literary and Cultural Left of the 1950s

Mary Helen Washington

Columbia University Press

The Other Blacklist

Google Preview

Pub Date: December 2015

ISBN: 9780231152716

368 Pages

Format: Paperback

List Price: $26.00£22.00

Pub Date: April 2014

ISBN: 9780231152709

368 Pages

Format: Hardcover

List Price: $50.00£42.00

Pub Date: April 2014

ISBN: 9780231526470

368 Pages

Format: E-book

List Price: $25.99£22.00

The Other Blacklist

The African American Literary and Cultural Left of the 1950s

Mary Helen Washington

Columbia University Press

Mary Helen Washington recovers the vital role of 1950s leftist politics in the works and lives of modern African American writers and artists. While most histories of McCarthyism focus on the devastation of the blacklist and the intersection of leftist politics and American culture, few include the activities of radical writers and artists from the Black Popular Front. Washington's work incorporates these black intellectuals back into our understanding of mid-twentieth-century African American literature and art and expands our understanding of the creative ferment energizing all of America during this period.

Mary Helen Washington reads four representative writers—Lloyd Brown, Frank London Brown, Alice Childress, and Gwendolyn Brooks—and surveys the work of the visual artist Charles White. She traces resonances of leftist ideas and activism in their artistic achievements and follows their balanced critique of the mainstream liberal and conservative political and literary spheres. Her study recounts the targeting of African American as well as white writers during the McCarthy era, reconstructs the events of the 1959 Black Writers' Conference in New York, and argues for the ongoing influence of the Black Popular Front decades after it folded. Defining the contours of a distinctly black modernism and its far-ranging radicalization of American politics and culture, Washington fundamentally reorients scholarship on African American and Cold War literature and life.

A groundbreaking and eye-opening study. In Washington's sure hands, biography, politics, and cultural history combine to open new intellectual vistas.

Alan M. Wald, University of Michigan

A wonderful combination of careful research, adept historicizing, and insightful close reading. Mary Helen Washington's book brings needed critical attention to understudied figures and helps readers rethink the careers of others whom they believe they already know.

James Smethurst, author of The African American Roots of Modernism: From Reconstruction to the Harlem Renaissance and The Black Arts Movement: Literary Nationalism in the 1960s and 1970s

Alice Childress, Lloyd Brown, Julian Mayfield, Frank London Brown... these ought to be household names in American letters and politics, as well as African American studies. In a brilliant work of historical reconstruction and (re)vision, Washington not only rescues these critical artists/intellectuals artist-intellectuals from obscurity and restores them to history but also rewrites that history—recasting the 1950s as a period of black radical critique, revolutionary fervor, political noncompliance, state repression and surveillance, and a flowering of black artistic imagination.'

Robin D. G. Kelley, author of Africa Speaks, American Answers: Modern Jazz in Revolutionary Times

The Cold War erased red politics from our reading of midcentury black art. Washington brings it back with eloquence and dense documentation. If you believe in freedom, read this book.

Mari Matsuda, author of Where Is Your Body and Other Essays on Race, Gender, and the Law

[A] compelling look at artists and writers who became part of the vanguard of the progressive politics and civil rights movement of the 1960s.

Booklist (starred review)


Publishers Weekly (starred review)

Well-thought, highly readable and timely.

Huffington Post

Washington builds a strong and much-needed case against purely aesthetic interpretations of 1950s African American literature. Highly recommended.


Insightful, densely researched, and engaging… Washington resoundingly demonstrates the importance of the Black Popular Front to the postwar black literary tradition.

Women's Review of Books

Washington's brilliant, intimate and highly readable new book capstones an important era of post-Cold War scholarship of the legacy of American Communism and African American literature… no book in recent memory more boldly confronts and dismantles the political apparatus of literary commemoration.


Washington's excellent book contributes powerfully to a strand of scholarship that is transforming our understanding of post-World War II American intellectual and cultural history... Deeply researched, persuasively argued, and much-needed.

Journal of American History

As literary and cultural history, Washington's book offers a vast resource... Readers who are eager to place the postwar period in the context of 1930s and '40s historiography of the left as well as the period of black nationalism that followed in the 1960s will rejoice in these pages.

The Los Angeles Review of Books

Well-researched, informative, illuminating... By challenging the standard Cold War narrative of Communist Party irrelevance and isolation, The Other Blacklist not only promotes radical African American cultural production in the 1950's, it also highlights the very real internal and external pressures faced by communists and their allies.

People's World

Superbly woven together... A must-read book for those who study and teach literature, women's studies, history, African American studies, American studies, and cultural studies.

Womens Studies Quarterly

An extraordinary piece of scholarly research and cultural commentary.

Science & Society
List of Illustrations
List of Abbreviations
1. Lloyd Brown: Black Fire in the Cold War
2. Charles White: "Robeson with a Brush and Pencil"
3. Alice Childress: Black, Red, and Feminist
4. When Gwendolyn Brooks Wore Red
5. Frank London Brown: The End of the Black Cultural Front and the Turn Toward Civil Rights
6. 1959: Spycraft and the Black Literary Left
Epilogue: The Example of Julian Mayfield
Works Cited

Read an excerpt from the introduction:

Web Features:

Honorable Mention – 2014 William Sanders Scarborough Prize, Modern Language Association

About the Author

Mary Helen Washington is a professor in the English Department at the University of Maryland, College Park. She has been a Bunting Fellow at Harvard University and has taught at the University of Massachusetts, Boston. She is the editor of Black-Eyed Susans: Classic Stories by Black Women Writers; Midnight Birds: Stories of Contemporary Black Women Writers; Invented Lives: Narratives of Black Women; and Memory of Kin: Stories of Family by Black Writers.