Angelo Herndon

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Angelo Braxton Herndon (May 6, 1913, Wyoming, Ohio – December 9, 1997, Sweet Home, Arkansas) was an African-American labor organizer arrested and convicted for insurrection after attempting to organize black and white industrial workers alike in 1932 in Atlanta, Georgia. The prosecution case rested heavily on Herndon's possession of "communist literature".[1]

Early life[edit]

Born into a poor family, Angelo Herndon endured racial discrimination. Herndon received a copy of the Communist Manifesto from a white worker in the Unemployed Councils, a group affiliated with the Communist Party, which led him to get involved with social issues and multiracial organizing.

Herndon went to Atlanta as a labor organizer for the Unemployment Council. His involvement with the Communist Party brought him national prominence.

Political activism[edit]

Herndon campaigned to organize working-class blacks and whites to become politically active. He traveled from Kentucky to Georgia and solicited blacks and whites alike for membership in an integrated Communist Party of Atlanta.[2] In July 1932, Herndon organized a hunger march and demonstration at the courthouse in Atlanta. On July 11, he checked on his mail at the Post Office and was arrested by two Atlanta detectives. A few days later his hotel room was searched and Communist Party publications were found. Herndon was charged under a Reconstruction era law of insurrection in the state of Georgia.

He was held close to six months in jail and was released on Christmas Eve, after his bail of $7,000 was paid by the International Labor Defense organization.[3] His freedom was short-lived as an all-white jury found Herndon guilty on January 18, 1933. His attorney was Benjamin J. Davis Jr., and the International Juridical Association reviewed the brief by Davis.[4] Herndon was sentenced to 18 to 20 years in prison.[5] On December 7, 1935, Herndon's conviction was overturned and he was released on bail.[6]

After the Georgia Supreme Court upheld his original conviction, Herndon went on a national speaking tour in 1936 to promote his case. He appeared before crowds in Denver, Topeka, and Kansas City, Missouri.[7] On April 26, 1937, a narrow five-to-four majority of the United State Supreme Court ruled in Herndon's favor, striking down Georgia's insurrection statute. Herndon was greeted as a hero by a crowd of 6,000 well-wishers at Pennsylvania Station in New York City. Several leading Communist Party officials were on hand to welcome him.[8] His case was appealed, and Herndon was convicted for the second time by the Supreme Court of Georgia. It was not until 1937 that the decision was finally overturned by the U.S. Supreme Court.

In 1937, a Supreme Court decision repudiated Georgia, holding that the state's insurrection statue violated the First Amendment to the United States Constitution.[2]

He avoided publicity in the latter part of his life but founded the Negro Publication Society of America in the 1940s, which published the radical African-American newspaper The People's Advocate in San Francisco, California, among other works.


  1. ^ Brown-Nagin, Tomiko, Courage to Dissent: Atlanta and the Long History of the Civil Rights Movement (New York: Oxford University Press, 2011).
  2. ^ a b Brown-Nagin, Courage to Dissent (2011), p. 285.
  3. ^ "Black Red Freed", Time, May 3, 1937.
  4. ^ Ginger, Ann Fagan (1993). Carol Weiss King, human rights lawyer, 1895-1952. Boulder: University Press of Colorado. p. 177. ISBN 0-87081-285-8. 
  5. ^ Herndon, Angelo (1935). The Case of Angelo Herndon. Joint committee to aid the Herndon defense. p. verso of cover. A Petition to Gov. Talmadge, Georgia [...] Whereas Angelo Herndon is sentenced under the law to 18 to 20 years on the chain gang [...]" 
  6. ^ John Hammond Moore. "The Angelo Herndon Case." Pylon 32:1 (1971), p. 64.
  7. ^ "Angelo Herndon Here Sunday." Plaindealer XXXVIII:51 (December 18, 1936), p. 1.
  8. ^ Angelo Herndon Comes Back from Georgia, August 1937. Archived September 9, 2005, at the Wayback Machine.


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