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Fri, 08.26.1910

Claude Lightfoot, Activist born

Claude Lightfoot

*The birth of Claude M. Lightfoot in 1910 is celebrated on this date. He was a Black activist, politician, and author.

Born in Lake Village, Arkansas, Lightfoot was raised by his grandmother until 1918, when the family moved to Chicago as part of the Great Migration to the North. Lightfoot witnessed the Chicago Race Riots of 1919, prompting him to join the struggles of Black workers in the 1920s. After participating briefly in Marcus Garvey's movement, which he decided was unworkable; Lightfoot became a member of the Democratic Party.

Disillusionment during the Great Depression led him to join the Communist Party in 1931. In 1932 he ran for the Illinois State Legislature on the Communist ticket, receiving 33,000 votes. In 1935 Lightfoot was a delegate to the Seventh (and last) World Congress of the Communist International in the Soviet Union.

Lightfoot married Geraldyne Gray in 1938.  She was a CPUSA organizer who died of cancer in 1962; they adopted a disabled son, Earl, around 1955. Lightfoot married Joyce in 1965 and adopted a daughter named Tanya.  After enlisting in 1941 and serving three and a half years in World War II, he rose to the top leadership of the Illinois Communist Party, succeeding Gilbert Green as chairman in 1957 when Green was arrested.

During the McCarthy era, on June 26, 1954, Lightfoot was arrested based on the Smith Act of 1946 and put on trial. While previous Smith Act indictments had been of individuals accused directly of attempting to overthrow the US government by force or violence, Lightfoot was indicted for being a member of the Communist Party, which, in turn, was alleged to be attempting to overthrow the government. His conviction was appealed to the U.S. Supreme Court, which acquitted Lightfoot in 1964.

Lightfoot's autobiography, his doctoral thesis at the University of Illinois, is: From Chicago's Ghetto to World Politics: The Life and Struggles of Claude M. Lightfoot. It was first published as Black America and the World Revolution (New York: New Outlook Publishers, 1970). A 1980 augmented edition was titled Chicago Slums to World Politics.

In the 1970s, Lightfoot wrote newspaper columns for the Chicago Courier. In 1973 he received an honorary doctorate from the University of Rostock in East Germany for his book Racism and Human Survival: Lessons of Nazi Germany for Today's World.  He was also honored by the W.E.B. DuBois Clubs of America and the Bulgarian and Soviet Communist parties.

He donated his papers to the Chicago Historical Museum in 1986. Lightfoot was an officer of the Communist Party of the USA, seeking the advancement of socialist and Marxist-Leninist ideals. The author of many books and articles about racism and communism, Lightfoot also traveled and lectured worldwide. Claude Lightfoot died in 1991.

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