Wednesday, November 16, 2016

Abolitionist Legacy in LaMott PA

Donald Scott Sr., Camp William Penn (Images of America: Pennsylvania). (Charleston SC: Arcadia Publishing, 2008).

Recruitment poster for Camp William Penn, 1863

I live in an historic neighborhood. My township of Cheltenham PA on the northern boundary of Philadelphia was a center of abolitionist activity in the 19th century. The area was known as Chelten Hills then. It is now divided into Elkins Park, Melrose Park (my home), and LaMott. 

"Roadside" home of James and Lucretia Mott

La Mott was the site of the first and largest Union training ground for African American troops at Camp William Penn during the Civil War from 1863-1865. The land was leased to the Federal government by Edward M. Davis, who was the son-in-law of abolitionist and reformer Lucretia Mott. Lucretia and husband James retired to their son-in-law’s Chelten Hills farm in 1857 to an old farmhouse called “Roadside”. Their home was a stop on the underground railroad en route to freedom for escaped slaves. She hosted many prominent abolitionist leaders at Roadside – Harriet Tubman, Frederick Douglass, Octavius V. Catto, William Still, Robert Purvis, Sojourner Truth, William Lloyd Garrison. Even Mary Brown stayed at Roadhouse while her husband John Brown awaited trial for his raid on Harper’s Ferry in 1859.

AME Church of LaMott

Chelten Hills was also home to Lucretia’s banker friend Jay Cooke
(1821-1905), who became known as the financier of the Civil War. Between 1862 and 1865 he sold $830 million in war bonds, at a commission of .375%. It was good politics and good business. He and Edward Davis were members of the Union League of Philadelphia (ULP), formed in 1862 “to discountenance and rebuke by moral and social influence all disloyalty to the Federal Government.” The ULP raised money to recruit troops for the Union, and sponsored five black regiments of US Colored Troops (USCT) at Camp William Penn. Before the Civil War, abolitionist sentiment was weak in Philadelphia. Abraham Lincoln received only 2000 votes out of 76,000 cast in the city in the 1860 election. The ULP converted Philadelphia to the Republican cause during the war. They even endorsed Radical Reconstruction after the war, including desegregating the streetcars.

Donald Scott Sr. has written two books about Camp William Penn -

Camp William Penn (Images of America: Pennsylvania), and Camp William Penn: 1863-1865 (2012). Scott is an English Professor at Community College of Philadelphia, and a Cheltenham resident and booster. He has assembled an amazing collection of 19th century photographs of the Camp and the township. I wish more historians made an effort to include illustrations. It adds interest and sells books. Old history books and fiction always had photographs or artwork. Maybe modern publishers will revive this tradition. It would create employment for illustrators and photographers. All that remains of Camp William Penn today is the restored front gate and main entrance on Sycamore Street. A neighborhood community group, Citizens for the Restoration of Historic LaMott, has made an on-and-off effort over the years to establish a museum and park commemorating the unique history of LaMott. The old 1910 LaMott fire station on Willow Avenue is the temporary home to archives and artifacts from Camp William Penn. Tours of the museum are by appointment only.

Camp William Penn served as the training ground for 11 regiments, 10,940 men, between July 1863 and July 1865. 1056 soldiers from Camp William Penn perished during the war. It is an ugly story, but many black soldiers and their white commanders were executed if they were captured in battle by Confederate troops. The burial ground for local US Colored Troop veterans of the Civil War is Butler Cemetery in Camden NJ at Ferry Avenue and Charles Street. I have not visited the site, but it appears to be incorporated into present-day Evergreen Cemetery on Google Maps.. There is also the African American Civil War Museum in Washington DC which documents the history of the US Colored Troops. I must investigate. After the War, some USCT veterans served as Buffalo Soldiers and fought in the Indian wars in the West.

After Camp William Penn was decommissioned, Edward Davis sold off lots and became the prime real estate developer of the new working-class neighborhood called Camptown. As a devout Hicksite Quaker, Davis sold to blacks and whites. To encourage development, Davis built a schoolhouse in 1878, and donated land for a community church in 1888, now the site of the AME Church of LaMott on Cheltenham Avenue. In 1885 the village received its first US post office and changed its name officially to LaMott in honor of their revered resident Lucretia Mott (1793-1880). In the late 19th century it became one of the early interracial communities in the nation. It remains so today. The latest arrivals to the township have been Asian-Americans in the last 40 years. The 2010 census reports the population was 56.6% White, 32.8% Black or African American, 0.2% Native American, 7.7% Asian, and 2.5% were two or more races, 3.9% of the population were of Hispanic or Latino ancestry.

African American Memorial, Washington DC

I think Lucretia Mott would be pleased. She wrote her sister in 1863, “The neighboring camp seems the absorbing interest just now. Is not this change of feeling and conduct towards this oppressed class beyond all that we could have anticipated, and marvelous in our eyes?” This from a staunch pacifist. The Civil War would finally banish chattel slavery from the US, as nonviolent efforts had failed.

Wednesday, November 2, 2016

A Rogue Gallery of 20th Century American Anarchists

Andrew Cornell. Unruly Equality: U.S. Anarchism in the 20th Century (Oakland, CA: University of California Press, 2016).

_____. “For a World Without Oppressors:” U.S. Anarchism from the Palmer Raids to the Sixties. Diss. New York University, 2011. 

The planet may find a way to survive the terrible insults it receives and humans may yet learn to live in societies that are equitable and just. But the fight to save the planet and find a just society must continue. Change can often come unexpectedly and rapidly (Diva Agostinelli Wieck, 2006).

Ammon Hennesy and Dorothy Day, Catholic Workerr
These are my people. I appreciate the attention Andrew Cornell has devoted to a manifestly minor current on the US left in his new history Unruly Equality: U.S. Anarchism in the 20th Century. Cornell shows the significant influence anarchists had on the early civil rights movement, the antiwar and student New Left in the 60s, and the green left and social ecology inspired by Murray Bookchin in recent years. Anarchists were also first on the Left to criticize one-party Bolshevik rule after the Russian Revolution in the 20s.

Dave Dellinger, Liberation
The last time anarchism had mass numbers was before WWI when
the Industrial Workers of the World (IWW) may have had 100,000 members. The IWW was never narrowly anarchist. It was ecumenical in an anarchist way, embracing agrarian populists, Christian socialists, syndicalists, freethinkers, social democrats, and anarchists. After WWI the IWW faded. The federal government imprisoned the top leadership of the IWW for opposing the war, and many members dropped out, or became communist in the wake of the Russian Revolution. The IWW was reborn in the late 60s with New Left converts and continues its mission to build "One Big Union" to this day. Cornell does not really cover the IWW. Either he feels its history has been well documented elsewhere, or considers it moribund after WWI.

Peter Maurin, Catholic Worker
Cornell identifies three distinct currents of anarchist activity in the 20s and 30s: (1) anarcho-syndicalism, characterized by the IWW and participation in various mainstream AFL unions; (2) insurrectionists, like the Italian partisans of anarchist Luigi Galleani; and (3) bohemians who formed rural colonies, housing cooperatives, libertarian schools, theaters, and other cultural ventures. There was overlap and conflict between these tendencies, but let me describe them separately.

Sam Dolgoff, IWW
(1) The labor movement working-class anarchists were largely first generation European immigrants who brought their political affiliations with them from the Old World. Some joined the IWW, some the vigorous Jewish textile unions, some the foreign language federations. Rose Pesotta began her anarchist career in the 20s as a shop delegate in the International Ladies' Garment Workers Union (ILGWU), the secretary of the Road to Freedom Group, a member of the Anarchist Red Cross, and rose to Vice President of the ILGWU by 1934, which was disdained by doctrinaire anarchists. Italian immigrant Carlo Tresca was another ecumenical anarcho-syndicalist labor organizer during this period. He was an IWW organizer at the 1912 Lawrence MA textile strike, the 1913 Paterson NJ silk strike, and the 1916 Mesabi Range MN miners' strike.  He was editor or publisher of a string of Italian-language labor newspapers in the US. He was an outspoken anti-Fascist and anti-Stalinist in the 30s. He was assassinated in broad daylight on Fifth Avenue, NYC in 1943, perhaps by the Mafia.

Dwight and Nancy MacDonald, politics
During the 30s these class-struggle anarchists largely abstained from the popular/united front organizing during the Great Depression. The Immigration Act of 1924 had cut off the stream of Italian, Jewish, and East European radicals to the US that fed the anarchist unions and organizations. Those immigrant factory jobs were now filled by African American migrants from the South. Anarchists (also the Socialist Party) were slow to fight for civil rights and racial justice. The Communist Party (CPUSA) became the leading civil rights advocate on the Left. 

Juanita and Wally Nelson, Peacemakers
In 1932 various anarchists veterans- Sam Dolgoff, Abe and Selma Bluestein, Sidney and Clara Soloman, and others- launched an anarchist publication Vanguard: A Libertarian Communist Journal in NYC. It was a small group, but played an important role in reprinting anarchist classics and rethinking principles after the Russian Revolution. Andrew Cornell notes "the revolution in Russia fundamentally divided and reordered the American Left." The Vanguard Group gave voice to the Left critics of the Bolshevik rule. They organized study groups and forums in NYC, aided anarchist exiles and prisoners in Europe and Russia, and examined the New Deal in their journal. Soon the consuming issue for anarcho-syndicalists worldwide became the Spanish Civil War (1936-39). Many of the same comrades published the Spanish Revolution newspaper during the Spanish Civil War reporting the confusing politics of the war to US readers. They also raised money for the CNT-FAI, the anarcho-syndicalist union in Spain. These groups disbanded after the defeat of Spanish Republic and the onset of WW2.

Judith Malina and Julian Beck,
Living Theatre
(2) After WW1 there remained a diehard group of revolutionary anarchists committed to the 19th century idea of propaganda of the deed, ie assassinations, bombings, insurrection, banditry, social revolution. Their inspiration was the Paris Commune in 1871. Anything short of libertarian communism was reformist and inadequate. The primary leader of this tendency was Luigi Galleani (1861-1931), an Italian immigrant and publisher. Galleani's followers (known as i Galleanisti) advocated the use of violence to eliminate tyrants and to overthrow the government. They also opposed formal political organizations and trade unions as hierarchical institutions of the old order. Among his disciples were Nicola Sacco and Bartolomeo Vanzetti, who were probably innocent of the crime they were hung for, but guilty of revolutionary violence on other occasions. Historian Paul Avrich investigated this history in Sacco and Vanzetti: the Anarchist Background (1990).

Murray Bookchin
The insurrectionary school of anarchism finally collapsed in the 30s. Many militants were deported, and new immigration laws restricted new migrants from southern and eastern Europe. These ideas were disastrous for anarchism. The anarchist bombings and assassinations from 1880-1920 in Europe and the US discredited all varieties of anarchism, and contributed to its decline after WW1. Anarchism has never recovered from its association with the bomb throwers in the popular mind. 

David Wieck and Diva Agostinelli
(3) Emma Goldman is an example of the bohemian or cultural strain of US anarchism. She was often criticized by trade unionists for her lecture tours of salon society on topics like theater and sexuality. But she was ahead of her time addressing birth control, homosexuality, popular culture, literature, and free speech. Her publication Mother Earth was a forerunner for many political and literary journals that followed later. She was deported to Russia in 1919 during the Red Scare following WW1. She was exiled the rest of her life, except for a brief lecture tour of the US in 1934.

Bill Sutherland, Peacemakers
Anarchists also founded alternative institutions, which Cornell calls prefigurative counterinstitutions. This has always been popular among anarchists. Cornell describes several ventures: the Ferrer Modern School at Stelton NJ (1915-1953), which was a free school and colony; the Mohegan Modern School, which was a spinoff from Stelton in upstate NY; and the Sunrise Co-operative Farm Community in Alecia MI (1933-1936) which was a short-lived American Kibbutz. Joseph Cohen wrote a history of Sunrise entitled In Quest of Heaven: The Story of the Sunrise Co-operative Farm Community (1957). They should have learned from their comrades in Palestine who were more successful cooperators. Anarchists were also active in the Housing Co-op Movement in the 1920s and 1930s in NYC which was initiated by unions, Workmen's Circle, CPUSA, and SP. These buildings were pioneers of racial integration and the nascent Civil Rights movement.

Carlo Tresca and Elizabeth Gurley Flynn,
Paterson NJ Silkworkers Strike
The most enduring anarchist creation from this era was the Catholic Worker Movement. It was founded in 1933 by Dorothy Day, a 35 year old radical journalist and recent Catholic convert, and Peter Maurin, a 55 year old French personalist. He was inspired by French philosopher Emmanuel Mounier (1905- 1950) who advocated a communitarian alternative to liberalism and Marxism. The Catholic Workers were philosophically guided by the Christian Gospels and Peter Kropotkin's vision of a decentralized anarchist communist order. Their program was direct action: opening houses of hospitality to care for the destitute, establishing farms to encourage self-sufficiency, and promoting radical education through "roundtable discussions" and their Catholic Worker newspaper. At the height of the Depression their monthly newspaper had over 100,000 circulation. Cornell says "the Catholic Worker experiment generated more interest than all the traditional schools of anarchism combined, and it pointed the direction the movement would develop in the coming decades." The Catholic Worker Movement is still healthy today with 100 Houses of Hospitality worldwide and its lively monthly Catholic Worker newspaper (a penny a copy). I've been a reader and subscriber since the 1960s.

Russell Blackwell, IWW
With the arrival of WW2, Cornell describes the confluence of radical pacifism and anarchism. Some anarchists and Trotskyists opposed the war as imperialist, and were imprisoned. Some pacifists refused civilian service and were imprisoned as well. These political prisoners at Danbury Federal Penitentiary and others collaborated to oppose and ultimately defeat Jim Crow segregation in the Federal prisons in 1944. Outside prison pacifists and young anarchists collaborated in new literary and political journals, and new organizations. This was the birth of a new contemporary anarchism. Dwight and Nancy MacDonald's politics journal (1944-1949) published many of the future luminaries of the New Left to come, like Camus, C. Wright Mills, James Baldwin, Byard Rustin, and Paul Goodman. The Committee on Racial Equality was founded in 1942 by civil rights activists from the Fellowship of Reconciliation (FOR). Later it was renamed Congress of Racial Equality (CORE). After WW2 war resisters Dave Dellinger, A. J. Muste,  David Wieck, and others formed the Committee for Nonviolent Revolution (CNVR) and later the Peacemakers in 1948 as militant direct action civil rights organizations. Fellowship for Reconciliation organized the first freedom ride in 1947 to challenge segregation on buses and trains in interstate travel. This was the beginning of the modern Civil Rights movement.

Rose Pesotta, ILGWU
The Peacemakers were my introduction to radical politics. I read Dave Dellinger's magazine Liberation (published 1956-1977) at college, and learned about a week-long workshop on nonviolence in the Missouri Ozark Mountains held by the Peacemakers in 1968. I attended and met war resisters from WW2 and the Vietnam war, as well as veteran civil rights activists. It was very inspiring, although ultimately I couldn't embrace pacifism. I did learn about the Catholic Worker Movement, Prince Peter Kropotkin, and the libertarian socialist tradition which was more to my taste. I volunteered at the CW St. Joseph House on East First Street whenever I visited friends in NYC and met other anarchist denizens of the neighborhood- the NYC IWW, the Living Theatre troupe, local Yippies and hippies. This counterpoised an appealing alternative for me to the stern Marxist-Leninist politics that was captivating the New Left in the late 60s.

Clara Solomon, Vanguard Group
There is lots of detail in Andrew Cornell's history which I enjoyed as a fellow traveler. Sometimes I am astounded by the massive literature on the history of the Left in the US. Oftentimes the subject of study are sects and groupscules of a few hundred or thousand people, or less. Nonetheless, some of these groups have had profound influence on US culture and history. Dorothy Day and the Catholic Worker supported the Republic during the Spanish Civil War in opposition to Rome and help create the Catholic Left. The Harlem Ashram, a multiracial intentional community formed by Union Theological Seminarians in 1940, introduced Dave Dellinger, George Hauser (FOR), and James Farmer (CORE) to Gandhi's philosophy of nonviolence, later adopted by modern Civil Rights movement. The San Francisco Bay area bohemians and anarchists were also central players in the counterculture that fomented the New Left in the 50s and 60s.

As to what is next, Cornell proposes a pluralist Left including many tendencies- Marxist, anarchist, revolutionary nationalist, feminist, pacifist. This sounds right to me. Unruly Equality: U.S. Anarchism in the 20th Century presents a faithful account of our anarchist forebears. It is a rich tradition that needs further development.