By Dr. Gerald Horne
February 20, 2023
Margaret Burnham is a distinguished law professor at Northeastern University; a former judge; defense counsel during the epochal criminal trial of Angela Y. Davis more than a half century ago and former leader of the National Conference of Black Lawyers.
Most recently, she is the author of By Hands Now Known: Jim Crow’s Legal Executioners, published by W.W. Norton and Company, a sweeping and well-researched study of racist terror inflicted on African Americans in the decades leading up to the agonized retreat from the more egregious aspects of U.S. apartheid during the 1960s.
This is a perceptive study that amply repays attention but one would not glean that point from the one-sided, mean-spirited review that appeared in The Wall Street Journal on January 6.
This scurrilous assault was penned by David Garrow, perhaps best known for his attempt to link Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. to erstwhile Communists, including the late duo: Stanley Levison and Jack O’Dell.
In reviewing Burnham’s book, he stresses what is actually a passing reference in her meticulous account: an acknowledgement of the role of the now defunct Southern Negro Youth Congress in combating this pestilence, a grouping which included her now deceased father, Louis Burnham, who also worked alongside Paul Robeson in Harlem in producing his newspaper, Freedom.
Garrow, a veteran red-baiter, seemingly wants to penalize the author because of the political pedigree of her father. Thus, despite the adroit excavation involved in penning this well-argued, well-researched work, he describes this book as “weak.”
Assuredly, the editor of the WSJ, the bible of monopoly capital did not choose this reviewer by happenstance.
Ultimately, this provides an abject disservice to readers, who would be better served by a more accurate rendering of Burnham’s handiwork.
On the other hand, even a stopped clock is correct twice a day and Garrow in his concerted attempt to ferret out who was a Communist and who was not in recent decades, in previous work does unmask the nefarious roles of Jack and Morris Childs, FBI operatives who penetrated to the highest level of the U.S. Communist Party.
I recall when I was researching my biographies of top Black Communist leaders, Ben Davis, Jr. and William Patterson, how I was struck by the Childs’ adept attempts to obstruct the concerted efforts of these African-American leaders and their repeated initiatives to internationalize the struggle against Jim Crow.
Certainly, the inability to expose this scandalous state of affairs, does not speak well for those who allowed it to happen for the Childs’ were akin to a computer virus unleashed on the operating system of worldwide revolution—and serious reform—with destructively devastating consequence.
Nevertheless, his analysis of the Childs brothers does not exempt Garrow from his abusive review of Burnham’s insightful work, which—sadly—may lead to unaware readers being deprived of her scintillating account.
Unfortunately, Garrow’s anticommunist posture is not his alone, it reflects a discernible trend in contemporary U.S. political discourse which ill prepares this nation to confront the challenges of the 21st century, not least grappling with the rise of China and the rapidly shifting global correlation of forces.
-Dr. Gerald Horne is an American historian who currently holds the John J. and Rebecca Moores Chair of History and African American Studies at the University of Houston. He is the author of books on slavery, socialism, popular culture, and Black internationalism. His recent book is The Counter-Revolution of 1836: Texas Slavery & Jim Crow and the Roots of U. S. Fascism (2022) from International Publishers.