Scope and arrangement
The Angelo Herndon papers comprise two series, CORRESPONDENCE and WRITINGS, in addition to legal and financial documents related to his defense, and some subject files. The collection complements the Angelo Herndon case files in the records of the International Labor Defense available on microfilm. (Sc Micro R-981).
The collection also includes a correspondence and research file on sharecropping and lynching, material from the Youth Branch of the National Negro Congress (1936), miscellaneous correspondence and documents pertaining to Eugene Braxton, Herndon's alias, and Pathway Press memorabilia (founded with Richard B. Moore).
The Angelo Herndon papers are arranged in five series:
Series includes Herndon's letters from prison to ILD Secretary William Patterson and Acting Secretary Anna Damon, letters from supporters in the United States and abroad, and correspondence with his publisher.
The Fulton Towers Prison files comprise a physical examination report by an African-American medical doctor, C.W. Powell, who visited Herndon in jail; a fact sheet on the case; and a July 21, 1932 letter from Otto Hall to Communist Party general secretary Earl Browder in New York, detailing mobilization efforts in Atlanta on Herndon's behalf, including appeals to trade-unions, a resolution by white Emory University students, and 10,000 leaflets distributed in one day. Included are letters from lawyers Ben Davis and John Greer, and a November 1935 telegram from Browder announcing the Party's new united front policy against fascism and war. There are also letters of solidarity from members of Angelo Herndon ILD branches, Free Herndon Committees across the country, the national Herndon Petition Committee and a Defend Angelo Herndon children's club in Dallas, Texas.
Herndon's own letters are those of a defiant and alert young man. His initial letters to William Patterson took issue with the lawyers in his defense and criticized the lack of support from local comrades, including Otto Hall who "was too yellow to come to the jail". Even in jail, Herndon continued to organize. Included in the files are three April 1933 letters to Herndon from death row inmate John Downer, found guilty of "attacking a white woman", and a letter from Herndon urging the ILD to take on Downer's case "as a sure way of building the ILD into a mass organization in Georgia and throughout the South". Downer was executed in the spring of 1934. Willie White, another death row inmate, appealed directly to Georgia governor Eugene Talmadge; the letter, in Herndon's handwriting, asserted White's innocence and pleaded for clemency.
Herndon's Campaign files include his correspondence with Anna Damon, Chicago socialite and acting ILD National Secretary, who organized two coast-to-coast tours to mobilize mass support and raise money for Herndon's legal defense. One million signatures were collected on a petition to Governor Talmadge by November 1935. Damon reportedly jumped to her death from a nearby hotel the night Earl Browder called for the dissolution of the American Communist Party in 1944. Other correspondents are A. Phillip Randolph, Walter White, Scottsboro defendant Haywood Patterson, and Pennsylvania Congressman Matthew Dunn who wrote to Talmadge on Herndon's behalf. Talmadge wrote back that he "will be glad to consider the Herndon case" for pardon if an application was made through the proper channels.
Other documents in the Campaign files include a five-page introduction at a Herndon program in Kenosha, Wisconsin, recounting the 1854 capture of fugitive slave Joshua Glover in nearby Racine, and Glover's rescue by local abolitionists. That incident led to a Wisconsin Supreme Court decision declaring the Fugitive Slave Law as unconstitutional. Also included are a four-page anti-communist and anti-semitic rant by a self-described rightwing infiltrator of the Communist Party; and a letter from the American Legion in Atlanta commenting on the Herndon case and on the treatment of "negros (sic) in the South, particularly in Georgia", who "have been treated better than any non-assimiable (sic) race occupying the same territory with a predominant and superior race". With the use of the Insurrection law to convict Herndon came an increase in vigilante activism. The Insurrection law was also used against other union and political organizers, black and white, including the "Atlanta Six".
Two additional correspondence files document Herndon's Supreme Court victory and the release of his autobiography, Let Me Live. Congratulations on the Supreme Court's decision include letters from Roy Wilkins, Assitant Secretary of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People Assistant; American Civil Liberties Union director Roger Baldwin; Walter Baer, a civil engineer facing deportation to Germany in 1937; and Lydia Gibson Minor, the wife of communist cartoonist and journalist Robert Minor, who wanted to paint a portrait of Herndon. The Executive Committee of International Red Aid likened Herndon's "courageous stand before the courts of Georgia" to Georgi Dimitroff's stand against Hermann Goering during the 1934 Reichstag Fire trial in Nazi Germany. Forty members of a Young Communist League branch signed a congratulation letter pledging "to increase the Negro membership within a period of three months...as a toast to your victory and ours". Also included are several dozens telegrams and a celebratory poem by Walter Lowenfels.
In addition to the customary exchanges with his Random House editor, Robert K. Haas, the Let Me Live correspondence includes many letters of appreciation from readers, Communist Party members and would-be distributors. Included is a three-page Herndon rebuttal to the editor of the New York Herald Tribune book review section, which ran a favorable appraisal of the book but concluded that, "Although it has come out as his autobiography, it is clear that while the material is his the writing was done by another hand".
Series encompasses the edited typescript of Herndon's autobiography and some of the original documents used as appendices in the book; several speeches given at mass rallies across the country; Herndon's account of a 1936 interview with Communist Party leader Tom Mooney at the San Quentin jail in California; a review of James Ford's The Negro and the Democratic Front, and articles on black history and culture and in defense of the Soviet Union. In a pre-May Day speech in Philadelphia, Herndon called on black and white workers to unite and fight against racial discrimination and the dangers of a new world war: "We remember too well what happened in the last world war. We remember the gold star mothers who were jim crowed when they visited their sons' graves in France". Herndon criticized the New Deal government in the 1936 elections for yielding "to big business and reaction" and denounced the Republican Party, "the Party of Wall Street" as the leader of "the forces preparing for war and the destruction of the few democratic rights the people still have". In a draft article recounting his earlier trial in Georgia, he portrays "the Rev. Solicitor Hudson (a moron and raving maniac)...with tears streaming from his eyes", pleading "in the name of the Lord that I be sent to my death, for God the almighty would be satisfied that justice would have been done, and the daughters of all states officials could walk down the streets safely". Herndon, whose brother Milton died fighting with the International Brigades during the Spanish civil war, also wrote in support of Loyalist Spain and against German fascism. Articles written about Herndon and the Scottsboro Case are also included.
Legal documents in the collection include Herndon's Defendant's Reply brief (Oct. 1933), and a Petition filed by his lawyers, Benjamin Davis and John Greer, in Georgia's Supreme Court (May 1934); Herndon's "Plaintiff-in-Error" appeal to Georgia's Supreme Court calling for a new hearing (1934); a Stay of Execution of the lower court's judgment against Herndon by Georgia's Supreme Court (July 1934); a special issue of the Federal Council of Churches' bulletin, "Information Service" on the Herndon case, together with a letter of protest from Reconciliation Trips of Georgia, calling on Governor Talmadge for a pardon in Herndon's case (1935); and the Decision from Georgia's Supreme Court upholding the lower court decision against Herndon (June 1936).
Publicity and Financial material related to the 1935 Angelo Herndon Tour include 92 one-page reports of mass meetings and other activities in various cities. Each report indicates the total number of participants, fluctuating between 40 and 2,000, the number of new recruits, the approximate number of black attendees, a list of support organizations involved in the local campaign committee, and a breakdown of revenue and expenses. The Herndon Tour extended to well over 50 cities, but avoided most Southern states and other locations where Herndon could be arrested. Campaign literature and other campaign material (leaflets, certificates, form letters, blank petitions, receipts, directives to local committees) are also included.