Communist Party USA

  Hershel Walker was an African American St. Louis, Missouri trade unionist and civil rights leader with an unparalleled degree of commitment to the struggles for peace and justice. He devoted his life to the movements for social transformation and joined workers across the world in the struggle for equality, workers’ rights, peace, and socialism. Born February 20, 1909, in Arkansas, Hershel Walker moved to St. Louis in 1929. In 1930, he joined the Young Communist League (YCL). It was during this time that he acquired an undying devotion to the working class, internationalism, and socialism. When he joined the Communist Party, USA (CPUSA), he also joined the St. Louis Unemployed Council, which sought to use mass mobilization tactics to prevent evictions and starvation during the Great Depression. On July 11, 1932, he took part in an Unemployed Council organized march on City Hall involving 3,000 Black and white men and women demanding relief for the unemployed. That struggle stopped St. Louis officials from cutting off food to families of the unemployed. Unemployed Council marches became a part of everyday St. Louis life. It was an early example of Communists challenging racism and Jim Crow in action in St. Louis. Black workers, like Walker, carried that philosophy into union organizing as well, seeking to unite across racial, ethnic, and gender divides. These efforts were part of a broad-based campaign for social transformation in the 1930s. The Unemployed Councils, led by the CPUSA, along with trade unions, were the organizations that fought for unemployment insurance, social security, the shorter work week, and the passage of the Wagner Act, which gave unions the legal right to organize. Walker was part of the early campaigns leading to the modern civil rights movement. He was part of what is now called the Long Civil Rights Revolution. He was a member of the local chapter of the International Labor Defense, which helped in the defense of the Scottsboro Nine in Alabama. The Scottsboro case brought international attention to racism, Jim Crow, and the cruel injustices of the South’s legal power structure. It was only through the efforts of activists like Walker that the nation began to be aware of the brutality of “southern justice.” Their activities planted the seeds of combining legal and mass protest tactics, while also bringing international pressure to bear against Jim Crow. Black Popular Front organizations, such as the National Negro Congress and the Southern Negro Youth Congress, would continue this tradition starting in the mid-1930s into the mid-1940s. In 1939, Walker helped organize support for 1,700 Black and white sharecroppers who were forced off their land in the Missouri Bootheel region, due to the policies of the landowners who sought to avoid paying the sharecroppers for their work. Like sharecroppers in Alabama and elsewhere, in the face of violence and terror, Missouri sharecroppers organized with the help of Communists like Walker. In 1942, Walker went to work at the Wagner Electric Company, where he stayed for 29 years. He belonged to the United Electrical, Radio and Machine Workers Union Local 1104, an affiliate of the Congress of Industrial Organizations (CIO). The UE was then partly led by well-known Communists, such as William Sentner, who negotiated the UE-Wagner Electric contract. During World War II, Walker and other progressive trade unionists organized against racist hiring and promotion policies that then predominated at Wagner Electric. When he started, Black workers were hired mainly for janitorial and transport jobs. He organized union members to fight these racist policies. He also worked with A. Philip Randolph’s March on Washington movement to protest racist hiring practices…

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Hershel Walker, civil rights and labor activist