Spivak, John L. (John Louis), 1897-1981

Alternative names
Birth 1897-06-13
Death 1981-09-30

Biographical notes:

John Louis Spivak, born June 13, 1897 in New Haven, CT, was an American journalist, who wrote articles and books on the rise of fascism, anti-Semitism, and the problems of the working class. Spivak wrote for the Daily Worker, New Masses, Ken, and the Call, the paper of the American Socialist Party, in addition to other other publications. During the rise of McCarthyism, Spivak wrote under pseudonyms, including Monroe Fry. His book credits include Georgia Nigger (1933), Europe Under the Terror (1936), Secret Armies: the New Technique of Nazi Warfare (1939), Honorable Spy: Exposing Japanese Military Intrigue in the United States (1939), Shrine of the Silver Dollar (1940), Sex, Vice and Business (1959), and his autobiography, A Man In His Time (1967). He passed away on September 30, 1981 in Philadelphia, PA.

From the guide to the John L. Spivak Photographs, undated, (Tamiment Library and Robert F. Wagner Labor Archive)

John Louis Spivak was born on June 13, 1897, and grew up in New Haven, Connecticut. After a series of factory jobs, Spivak began a career in journalism as a police reporter with the New Haven Union . His antipathy for the patriotic hysteria of the late 1910s, coupled with an interest in socialism, politicized Spivak, who used his investigative skills to expose corruption and venality in American business and government. By 1919, Spivak was working as a freelance reporter for the American Socialist Party's paper, The Call, where he covered labor unrest in the West Virginia mines, going so far as to personally ask the White House to investigate the murders of unionizers and the Sacco-Vanzetti murder trial.

Throughout the 1920s and 1930s Spivak travelled around the country and the world investigating corruption and inequality. He successfully proved that a New York police commissioner's evidence that labor unions were receiving funds from the U.S.S.R. were forged. He also investigated living conditions in Georgia prison camps and chain gangs, which he revealed in a book of fiction titled Georgia Nigger . This book caused a sensation, and is credited with curtailing the chain gang system in the South.

In the 1930s Spivak investigated the rise of fascism. He was particularly interested in fascist infiltration in the United States, and worked with several anti-fascist and Jewish groups to expose German and Japanese propagandists and spies. His 1934 book Plotting America's Pogroms investigated Nazi groups in the United States, and he continued his reports with Europe Under the Terror (1936), which interviewed members of the anti-Nazi underground in Rome, Vienna, Berlin, Warsaw, and Prague. Spivak exposed a group of fascist sympathizers who were trying to foment a revolution in Mexico in order to divert American attention from Germany and Japan. His 1940 book, The Shrine of the Silver Dollar, led to the downfall of the anti-Semitic broadcaster, Father Charles Coughlin. Spivak's many exposés led the crusader and muckraker Lincoln Steffens to name him the best of us.

Spivak retired from journalism in the 1960s and published an autobiography, A Man in His Time, in 1967. However, two years later, he became consumer affairs editor at a Pennsylvania newspaper, where he exposed a corrupt magazine sales scheme, which led to a new state consumer protection law. Spivak died September 30, 1981, in Philadelphia.

From the guide to the John L. Spivak Papers TXRC93-A6., 1929-1948, (Harry Ransom Humanities Research Center, University of Texas at Austin)


Loading Relationships


Ark ID:


  • Journalists--United States
  • Authors, American
  • Prisons--Georgia
  • Afro--American prisoners--Georgia
  • Convict labor--Georgia


not available for this record


not available for this record