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"Put One More 'S' in the USA": Communist Pamphlet Literature and the Productive Fiction of the Black Nation Thesis

  • Author(s): Sangrey, Trevor Joy
  • Advisor(s): Epstein, Barbara L
  • et al.

In 1928 the Communist Party USA developed an unconventional and intriguing proposal that black people in the Black Belt of the Southern United States were an unrecognized national group and should have rights to self-determination, a move later called the "Black Nation Thesis." Using this proposal the CPUSA impacted the highly contested discourse around race in the 1930s, in the North and the South. This dissertation brings together social movement studies with insights from critical media, ethnic, and gender studies to interrogate the rhetoric of the CPUSA's Black Nation Thesis. The work extends the growing scholarship on black radical organizing by looking at the archived ephemera of the period, specifically a collection of over 300 pamphlets, to probe how radical visions and dreams grow and spread, analyzing pamphlet literature as an imaginative and pedagogical space for social movements.

Using analytical close reading techniques, I demonstrate how CPUSA pamphlet literature on the Black Nation Thesis functions as a productive fiction, signaling both the dreams that compel social movements as well as the working out of ideological issues and concerns. The Party used the Black Nation Thesis as a productive fiction to work through various political and policy issues as well as to galvanize membership and invigorate anti-racist struggle, laying the groundwork for the later intersectional analysis of race, class, and gender. Looking at pamphlets on the Scottsboro Nine trials, CPUSA presidential elections, and black women's labor, among others, I note how pamphlets function as speculative spaces for social movements.

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