Death Blow to Jim Crow

The National Negro Congress and the Rise of Militant Civil Rights

By Erik S. Gellman

368 pp., 6.125 x 9.25, 22 illus., 2 maps, notes, index

  • Paperback ISBN: 978-1-4696-1899-9
    Published: August 2014
  • E-book PDF ISBN: 979-8-8908-8458-9
    Published: February 2012
  • E-book EPUB ISBN: 978-0-8078-6993-2
    Published: February 2012

John Hope Franklin Series in African American History and Culture

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During the Great Depression, black intellectuals, labor organizers, and artists formed the National Negro Congress (NNC) to demand a "second emancipation" in America. Over the next decade, the NNC and its offshoot, the Southern Negro Youth Congress, sought to coordinate and catalyze local antiracist activism into a national movement to undermine the Jim Crow system of racial and economic exploitation. In this pioneering study, Erik S. Gellman shows how the NNC agitated for the first-class citizenship of African Americans and all members of the working class, establishing civil rights as necessary for reinvigorating American democracy.

Much more than just a precursor to the 1960s civil rights movement, this activism created the most militant interracial freedom movement since Reconstruction, one that sought to empower the American labor movement to make demands on industrialists, white supremacists, and the state as never before. By focusing on the complex alliances between unions, civic groups, and the Communist Party in five geographic regions, Gellman explains how the NNC and its allies developed and implemented creative grassroots strategies to weaken Jim Crow, if not deal it the "death blow" they sought.

About the Author

Erik S. Gellman is associate professor of history at The University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.
For more information about Erik S. Gellman, visit the Author Page.


“[Gellman’s] writing style is clear as he sets out for the reader exactly what he intends to accomplish in every chapter. . . . Packed with gems.”--North Carolina Historical Review

"A must-read for everyone interested in understanding the grassroots, populist nature of the long civil rights movement."--Journal of American History

"A deeply researched and beautifully crafted book. Artfully woven together, the chapters examine the NNC's history and frame it as an important part of the African American freedom struggle. . . . Gellman has crafted a rich organizational study that is historically grounded and regionally specific that avoids romanticizing the labor-civil rights coalitions. . . . [It] makes clear the importance of the NNC in understanding the Popular Front, the rise of the CIO, and militant civil rights activism of the 1930s and 1940s."--Labor: Studies in Working-Class of the Americas

“A wonderful book, full of social history that has remained little examined through nearly all the fine (and sometimes mediocre) scholarship on African American life published in the last thirty years. It may also represent a new phase of serious scholarship in the twentieth-century American history at large.”--Journal of Illinois History

“A must read. . . . A good example of how competent research and nuanced argumentation can yield scholarly discoveries even in exhaustively studied areas of American history.”--American Historical Review

"Gellman's analysis of their successes and failures brings new and more complex dimensions to our understanding. . . . Essential reading for anyone interested in African American, labour, gender, civil rights, and social history."--Labour