Davis, Benjamin J. (Benjamin Jefferson), 1903-1964

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A prominent black attorney, Davis graduated from Amherst College in 1925, graduated from Harvard Law School in 1929, and returned to Georgia to practice law. He gained notoriety for his defense of Angelo Herndon in 1933 who had been accused of insurrection. Davis became actively involved with the Communist Party and moved to New York City in 1935 to edit the Daily Worker. In 1948, he was arrested under the Smith Act and received a five-year sentence. He was arrested again in 1962 for his participation in the Communist Party but died before his case reached trial.

From the description of Papers regarding Benjamin Jefferson Davis, 1925-1964. (Harvard Law School Library). WorldCat record id: 234338684

Communist Party organizer in Georgia and renowned African-American political prisoner in the 1930s. Angelo Herndon, who helped organized a protest march of Black and white unemployed workers in Atlanta in 1932, was found guilty of "inciting to insurrection" in a Fulton County court, under an 1861 slave stature, and condemned to 18 to 20 years on a Georgia chain gang. A petition drive for his release organized by the International Labor Defense collected two million signatures. Freed on bail in December 1934, he toured the United States, speaking to thousands of supporters. The Georgia Supreme Court upheld the lower court's decision, but the U.S. Supreme Court ruled in his favor in April 1937. Earlier that year, his autobiography "Let Me Live" was published by Random House. Herndon continued with his literary and political activities into the next decade, co-editing with Ralph Ellison the short-lived "Negro Quarterly: a Review of Negro Life and Culture," but retired to private life before the onset of the Cold War. He died in 1997.

From the guide to the Angelo Herndon papers, 1932-1940, (The New York Public Library. Schomburg Center for Research in Black Culture, Manuscripts, Archives and Rare Books Division.)

Born in Dawson, Ga. in 1903, Benjamin Jefferson Davis, Jr. was a civil rights lawyer, a former New York City councilman, an author and editor, a Marxist theoretician and a leader of the Communist Party of the United States of America.

Davis joined the Communist Party in 1933 during his court defense of Angelo Herndon, a young African-American communist organizer who faced the death penalty in Georgia for leading a protest march of white and black unemployed workers. He later served as an editor and publisher to the "Daily Worker" and its weekly successor, "The Worker", and as a member of the editorial board of "Political Affairs," the theoretical journal of the Communist Party. He is also the author of an extensive autobiography and of several pamphlets on Communism and blacks.

Davis was elected to the New York City Council in 1943 as a Communist Party candidate. He was reelected in 1945, but was defeated in 1949 by a coalition candidate of the Republican, Democratic and Liberal parties. As an elected official, Davis organized several mass campaigns against police brutality and against segregation in education, housing and sports.

In 1949, Davis was one of eleven Communist leaders convicted of conspiring to overthrow the United States government. He went to jail in 1951 and spent three years and four months at the federal prison at Terre-Haute, Indiana. He continued to fight against racial discrimination during his incarceration, and filed two suits in the U.S. District Court to stop the segregation of African-American inmates in federal penitentiaries. At the end of his sentence, he served an additional two months at the Allegheny County Jail in Pittsburgh, Pa. for having refused, in 1953, to reveal the names of people belonging to the Communist Party's Commission on Negro Work. At the time of his death, Davis was again under indictment, under the McCarran Act, for his refusal to register as an agent of the Soviet Union.

From the description of Benjamin J. Davis papers, 1949-1964. (New York Public Library). WorldCat record id: 144652278

Born in Dawson, Ga. in 1903, Benjamin Jefferson Davis, Jr. was a civil rights lawyer, a former New York City councilman, an author and editor, a Marxist theoretician and a leader of the Communist Party U.S.A. His father was a National Republican Committeeman and a prominent newspaper publisher in the South. Davis graduated from Amherst College in 1929 and the Harvard Law School in 1932. He joined the Communist Party in 1933 during his court defense of Angelo Herndon, a young African American Communist organizer who faced the death penalty in Georgia for leading a protest march of white and black unemployed workers.

Davis moved to New York in 1935, and became the editor of The Negro Liberator as well as a regular contributor to various Communist Party publications. He later served as the editor and publisher of the Daily Worker and its successor, the weekly The Worker, and as a member of the editorial board of Political Affairs, the theoretical journal of the Communist Party. He is also the author of an extensive autobiography and of several pamphlets on Communism and blacks.

Elected to the New York City Council as a Harlem representative in 1943, Davis was one of two Communist Party candidates to have ever been elected to office in the United States. He was reelected in 1945 but was defeated in 1949 by a coalition candidate of the Democratic, Republican and Liberal parties. He was expelled from his seat in the City Council, however, before the end of his second term, after his indictment and arrest under the Smith Act for alleged subversive activities. As an elected official, Davis organized several mass campaigns against police brutality and against segregation in education, housing and sports.

In 1949, Davis was one of eleven communist leaders convicted of conspiring to overthrow the United States government. He went to jail in 1951 and spent three years and four months at the Federal Prison at Terre-Haute, Indiana. He continued to fight against racial discrimination during his incarceration, and filed two suits in the U.S. District Court to stop the segregation of African American inmates in federal penitentiaries. At the end of his sentence, he served an additional two months at the Allegheny County Jail in Pittsburgh, Pa. for having refused, in 1953, to reveal the names of people belonging to the Communist Party's Commission on Negro Work. Two weeks after his release, Davis married Nina Stamler, his fiancee before he went to jail and the daughter of a Bronx dentist. A daughter, Emily, was born of this union. At the time of his death, Davis was again under indictment, under the McCarran Act, for his refusal to register as an agent of the Soviet Union.

Davis was a prominent Communist Party leader and an internationally known theoretician on the status and struggles of blacks in the United Status. He led the Party's New York State district and was the chairman of its Commission on Negro Work.

Elected to the National Committee in 1959, he also served as the Party's National Secretary. Following Stalin's death in 1953, he sided with William Z. Foster, then National Chairman of the Communist Party, in defeating a revisionist tendency within the party, on the so-called “American road to socialism.” Benjamin Davis was a well-known and honored figure in the Harlem community at the time of his death.

From the guide to the Benjamin J. Davis papers, 1949-1964, (The New York Public Library. Schomburg Center for Research in Black Culture, Manuscripts, Archives and Rare Books Division.)

Archival Resources
Role Title Holding Repository
creatorOf Davis, Benjamin J. (Benjamin Jefferson), 1903-1964. Benjamin J. Davis papers, 1949-1964. New York Public Library System, NYPL
referencedIn Crusader News Agency (New York, N.Y.). Crusader News Agency press releases, 1935-1940. Campbell University, Wiggins Memorial Library
referencedIn Unger, Abraham 1899-1975. Abraham Unger Papers 1936-1976, undated. New York University, Tamiment Library
creatorOf Williams, Eric Eustace, 1911-1981. Literary and scholarly manuscripts collection, [ca. 1930-1980] Campbell University, Wiggins Memorial Library
referencedIn Crusader News Agency press releases, 1935-1940 The New York Public Library. Schomburg Center for Research in Black Culture, Manuscripts, Archives and Rare Books Division.
referencedIn John Pittman Papers, Bulk, 1926-1983, 1905-1987, (Bulk 1926-1983) Tamiment Library / Wagner Archives
creatorOf Herndon, Angelo, 1913-1997. Angelo Herndon papers, 1932-1940. New York Public Library System, NYPL
referencedIn Reference Center for Marxist Studies Pamphlet Collection, Bulk, 1940-1975, 1900-2004 Tamiment Library / Wagner Archives
referencedIn Claudia Jones Memorial collection, 1935-1998 The New York Public Library. Schomburg Center for Research in Black Culture, Manuscripts, Archives and Rare Books Division.
creatorOf Benjamin J. Davis papers, 1949-1964 The New York Public Library. Schomburg Center for Research in Black Culture, Manuscripts, Archives and Rare Books Division.
referencedIn The, Daily Worker, and, The Daily World, Photographs Collection, Bulk, 1930-1990, 1920-2001 Tamiment Library and Robert F. Wagner Labor Archive
referencedIn J. B. Matthews Papers, 1862-1986 and undated David M. Rubenstein Rare Book & Manuscript Library
referencedIn The, Daily Worker, and, The Daily World, Negatives Collection, Bulk, 1968-1990, 1930-2001 Tamiment Library / Wagner Archives
creatorOf Angelo Herndon papers, 1932-1940 The New York Public Library. Schomburg Center for Research in Black Culture, Manuscripts, Archives and Rare Books Division.
referencedIn Jefferson School of Social Science Records and Indexes, Bulk, 1944-1955, 1931-1958, (Bulk 1944-1955) Tamiment Library / Wagner Archives
referencedIn McDaniel, Thelma. Thelma McDaniel Collection, 1935-1989. Historical Society of Pennsylvania
referencedIn Manchanda, Claudia,. Claudia Jones Memorial collection, 1935-1998. New York Public Library System, NYPL
referencedIn Patterson, William L. (William Lorenzo), 1890-1980. William Lorenzo Patterson papers, 1919-1979 (bulk, mid-1950s-1979). Moorland-Spingarn Resource Center
referencedIn Elizabeth Gurley Flynn Papers, 1896-1964, (Bulk 1937-1964) Tamiment Library / Wagner Archives
referencedIn Flynn, Elizabeth Gurley. Papers, 1896-1964 (bulk 1937-1964) Churchill County Museum
referencedIn Pittman, John. Papers, 1905-1987 (bulk 1926-1983). Churchill County Museum
referencedIn Schlesinger, Hymen, 1903-1976. Papers of Hymen Schlesinger, 1927-1990. University of Pittsburgh
creatorOf Davis, Benjamin J. (Benjamin Jefferson), 1903-1964. Papers regarding Benjamin Jefferson Davis, 1925-1964. Harvard Law School Library, HLS Library
referencedIn Elizabeth Gurley Flynn Photographs, 1895-1967 Tamiment Library / Wagner Archives
referencedIn Nelson, Steve, 1903-. Steve Nelson papers, 1937-1991 (bulk 1950-1985). Churchill County Museum
referencedIn Steve Nelson Papers, Bulk, 1950-1985, 1937-1991, (Bulk 1950-1985) Tamiment Library / Wagner Archives
referencedIn Communist Party of the United States of America Records, Bulk, 1950-1990, 1892-2009 Tamiment Library and Robert F. Wagner Labor Archive
referencedIn Earl Browder Papers, 1879-1990 Special Collections Research Center, Syracuse University Libraries
referencedIn Communist Party of the United States of America Printed Ephemera Collection, 1918-2004 Tamiment Library and Robert F. Wagner Labor Archive
referencedIn B. D. Amis Papers, Bulk, 1930-1949, 1930-2004, (Bulk 1930-1949) Tamiment Library / Wagner Archives
referencedIn The, Daily Worker, and, The Daily World, Photographs Collection, Bulk, 1930-1990, 1920-2001 Tamiment Library and Robert F. Wagner Labor Archive
referencedIn Abraham Unger Papers, 1936-1976, undated Tamiment Library / Wagner Archives
referencedIn Evelyn Wiener Papers, circa 1960s - circa 1980s Tamiment Library and Robert F. Wagner Labor Archive
referencedIn James E. Jackson and Esther Cooper Jackson Papers, Bulk, 1937-1992, 1917-2008 Tamiment Library / Wagner Archives
referencedIn Jackson, James E., 1914-2007. James E. Jackson and Esther Cooper Jackson papers, 1917-2004 (bulk [1937-1992]). Churchill County Museum
referencedIn Civil Rights Congress (U.S.). Civil Rights Congress records, 1946-1955. Campbell University, Wiggins Memorial Library
referencedIn Evelyn Wiener Papers, circa 1960s - circa 1980s Tamiment Library / Wagner Archives
Role Title Holding Repository
Relation Name
associatedWith Amherst College. corporateBody
associatedWith Amis, B. D., b. 1896 person
associatedWith Angelo Herndon Petition Committee corporateBody
associatedWith Aptheker, Herbert, 1915-2003. person
associatedWith Benjamin Davis Defense Committee. corporateBody
associatedWith Briggs, Cyril V., 1888- person
associatedWith Browder, Earl, 1891-1973 person
associatedWith Civil Rights Congress (U.S.) corporateBody
associatedWith Communist Party of the United States of America. corporateBody
associatedWith Communist Party of the United States of America. Harlem Section. corporateBody
associatedWith Communist Party of the United States of America. National Committee. corporateBody
associatedWith Crusader News Agency (New York, N.Y.) corporateBody
associatedWith Damon, Anna person
associatedWith Dennis, Eugene, 1905-1961. person
associatedWith Flynn, Elizabeth Gurley person
associatedWith Flynn, Elizabeth Gurley. person
associatedWith Foster, William Z., 1881-1961. person
associatedWith Griswold, Erwin N. (Erwin Nathaniel), 1904- person
associatedWith Harvard Law School. corporateBody
associatedWith Herndon, Angelo, 1913-1997. person
associatedWith International Labor Defense corporateBody
associatedWith Jackson, Esther person
associatedWith Jackson, Esther. person
associatedWith Jackson, Esther Cooper person
associatedWith Jackson, James E., 1914-2007. person
associatedWith Jefferson School of Social Science (New York, N.Y.). corporateBody
associatedWith Jones, Claudia, 1915-1954. person
associatedWith Jones, Claudia, 1915-1964 person
associatedWith King, Martin Luther, Jr., 1929-1968. person
associatedWith Lowenfels, Walter, 1897-1976. person
associatedWith Manchanda, Claudia person
associatedWith Manchanda, Claudia, person
associatedWith Matthews, J. B. (Joseph Brown), 1894-1966 person
associatedWith McDaniel, Thelma. person
associatedWith Mooney, Tom person
associatedWith Nelson, Steve, 1903- person
associatedWith New York (N.Y.) City Council. corporateBody
associatedWith Patterson, William L. (William Lorenzo), 1890-1980. person
associatedWith Pittman, John. person
associatedWith Pittman, John. person
associatedWith Reference Center for Marxist Studies. corporateBody
associatedWith Resnick, Sidney I. person
associatedWith Robeson, Eslanda Goode, 1896-1965. person
associatedWith Robeson, Paul, 1898-1976. person
associatedWith Schlesinger, Hymen, 1903-1976. person
associatedWith Talmadge, Eugene, 1884-1946 person
associatedWith Tamiment Library. corporateBody
associatedWith Unger, Abraham 1899-1975. person
associatedWith United States corporateBody
associatedWith United States corporateBody
associatedWith Wiener, Evelyn, 1914-2005 person
associatedWith Wilkins,Roy, 1901- person
Place Name Admin Code Country
New York (N.Y.)
New York (N.Y.)
United States
United States
United States
Subject
African Americans--Legal status, laws, etc
Municipal government
City council members--New York (State)--New York
Local election
African American lawyers
Race discrimination--United States
Trials (Political crimes and offenses)--United States
Municipal government--New York (State)--New York
Race discrimination
Communism--United States--History--Sources
Communism--1917-
Local elections--New York (State)--New York
Police--Complaints against
Political prisoners--United States
Trials (Sedition)--Georgia
African American writers
Prisons--United States
Communist parties--United States
Political crimes and offenses--United States
Communist parties
African Americans--Politics and government
Prisoners' writing, American
Communist trials
African Americans--Segregation
Communists--Biography
Chain gangs--Georgia
Trials (Political crimes and offenses)
African American communists
Communists--United States--Biography
Conspiracies
Radicals
Communism--History--Sources
African Americans--Education (Higher)
Radicals--United States
Autobiographies
Civil rights and socialism
African American activists
City council members
Political crimes and offenses
Prisons
African American comunists
Political prisoners
African American communists--Biography
Conspiracies--United States
Death row inmates--Georgia
Communism--United States
Occupation
Function

Person

Birth 1903

Death 1964

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