By Ernie McCray
A couple of years ago at a showing of “Sing Your Song,” a documentary that highlights Harry Belafonte’s role in pursuits for human and civil rights, I met Ben Kamin, a scholar who has written much about the social struggles of those times. I just finished reading, with delight, his latest book, “Dangerous Friendship.”
The book puts the spotlight on Stanley Levison, a little known figure in the civil rights movement, who fully dedicated his life to helping Martin Luther King.
Regarding this man, Clarence Jones, another prominent aide to Martin, says “I am extremely upset, and I get angry, 24/7, and have been for many years about the glaring omission of the name and history of Stanley Levison in the civil rights chronicle.”
These words from the book get at what Mr. Jones was talking about: “Stanley Levison had been so close to Martin King for so long, had corrected the texts of his speeches, done his taxes, edited his books, found him donors and attorneys and bail money, advised him on matters ranging from his sex life to how to criticize American foreign policy, and had effectively edged out Ralph Abernathy as the ultimate confidante. Ralph was Martin’s friend; Stanley was Martin’s conscience.”
The man, quite simply, had a lot to do with keeping the civil rights movement alive. Pro bono.
Kamin tells a compelling story of how resistant our nation has been throughout its history to give full civil and human rights to all its people. And Stanley Levison was in that category both as a Jew and a one-time member of the Communist Party.
The book highlights how being a “Red” in this society is a huge faux paux. Because of a “former life,” so to speak, Levison had to work like a fugitive in the shadows for the movement as J. Edgar Hoover and the FBI and JFK and RFK were not okay, in any way, with a commie freely helping a people to become free.
They wiretapped and closely tracked and photographed Levison relentlessly and eventually did the same with Martin. So, for a long while, trust between the leaders of our nation and the leaders of our largest civil rights movement, was practically non-existent.
“Dangerous Friendship,” a great read, tells it like it was, exposing how our government has made struggles for freedom way more difficult than they should be.
The book suggests to me that we should select our leaders more diligently and observe them more vigilantly. History, like that revealed by Ben Kamin, reminds us of such a necessity.
“The book suggests to me that we should select our leaders more diligently and observe them more vigilantly. History, like that revealed by Ben Kamin, reminds us of such a necessity”. Ernie McCray….I could not agree more! Thank You
Jim Hirst says
Thanks Ernie for bringing this book out.
The unrecognized and heroic part of the Communist Party USA was their early anti-racist struggles. From the late 20’s, 30’s, 40’s, 50’s into the modern Civil Rights era. I mention The Southern Tenant Farmer’s Union, Scott’sboro Boy’s, Operation Dixie, Paul Robeson, Jack O’Dell, Rosa Parks, Highlander School and some Families from right there in San Diego, as only a partial list that must include the all the nameless people who faced the gun and noose. Someday, maybe, the CP will be redeemed from it’s slavish pro-Soviet antics if we can remember this.
communists (if there are any left) and even social democrats are still demonized in the USA
Ernie McCray says
Very much so.
A great reflection on the role of an unsung hero in the history of Blacks in America. There are many of these “King Makers” who worked quietly behind the scenes fo bring about social change in the 60’s and 70’s. One such person was Mrs. Burt Lancaster (Norma) who was the catalyst for the largest school busing program in the world –LAUSD’s Permit With Transportation (PWT). That court-ordered integration program was spun off of Norma Lancaster’s Transport A Child (TAC) initiative. With private funds, TAC began busing black kids from L.A.’s inner city, first to her own kids’ Bel-Air school, then to other West L.A. schools. The ultimate impact was tremendous and continues to unfold in the lives of those students who’s educational opportunities were optimized by her courageous action.
All of this is presented in my memoir, “From Dunbar To Destiny; One Woman’s Journey Through Desegregation and Beyond”, which is available on Amazon.com. It all began with a threat by the John Birch Society to expose Communism in schools.
Ernie McCray says
I remember you telling me about Norma Lancaster’s role in the Los Angeles City Schools years ago and I’ve admired her ever since. I hope people check your book out so they can learn about our experiences growing up in Tucson.
She has been gone a long time. I wish she could have known how much her work has meant over time to so many. I hope people will get the book, too–there’s a lot in it.
Ernie McCray says
Okay, y’all heard Shirl Girl. Buy the book!