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Angelo Herndon was born outside of Cincinnati in 1913 and was a courageous and dedicated activist who fought for the rights of all people. He was arrested and convicted of insurrection for organizing a peaceful march of Black and white workers in Atlanta, Georgia. His case went to the Supreme Court, overturning his conviction in a landmark ruling that affirmed the right to organize and advocate for social change. He married Joyce M. Chellis in 1938 and lived his later years in Chicago. Herndon’s fight for justice and equality leaves a legacy that inspires activists today.

 

Angelo Herndon Young
Herndon as a young man – from blackamericaweb.com

 

Early Life

Angelo Herndon’s, born Eugene Angelo Braxton Herndon in 1913, early life was marked by the harsh realities of racism and poverty. Born into a sharecropper family in Wyoming, Ohio, he witnessed the discrimination faced by African Americans under Jim Crow laws. After his father’s death, Herndon and his siblings shouldered financial responsibilities, taking on various jobs to support their family.

At thirteen, he left home for dangerous and poorly paid work in a Kentucky mine. Seeking better opportunities, he moved to Birmingham in 1930, where he encountered the Communist Manifesto and joined the Young Communist League.

 

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Activism

Herndon was becoming more involved in the Communist Party, as he found it to be the first organization he had encountered that was not racist. Embracing their ideals, he became an organizer for the Unemployment Council in Atlanta.

Herndon had a strong passion for social justice and the rights of the working class, and in 1932, he

Herndon Arrest Headline
Herndon Arrest Newspaper – from shbutlerwrites.wordpress.com

demonstrated this by leading a march for Atlanta’s Black and white unemployed workers. Two Atlanta detectives arrested him shortly after and charged him with attempted insurrection. A sentence that would have far-reaching implications for the nation faced Herndon, who was then nineteen years old and convicted, with a twenty-year prison sentence.

The U.S. Supreme Court overturned Herndon’s conviction and freed him in 1937. Herndon’s appeal was assisted by the International Labor Defense attorney Benjamin Davis, Jr., and a four-year publicity campaign led by well-known leaders such as C. Vann Woodward, Thurgood Marshall, A. Philip Randolph, and Whitney North Seymour, Sr.

The historic ruling affirmed that Herndon’s First Amendment rights violation had occurred. For the first time, the Supreme Court ruled against a state law specifically designed to suppress black activism.

Herndon’s case showed how race-neutral legal strategies could combine race-conscious publicity strategies to unite diverse groups in mass protest. It also was a landmark decision that united the struggle for civil rights and liberties, becoming a cornerstone of the civil rights movement. Lawyers and activists still cite it today as they fight for the rights of all people.

While Herndon was in prison, he penned a powerful memoir, Let Me Live, chronicling his life, the story behind his arrest, and his struggle through the courts.

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Later Life

Following his release from prison, Herndon continued his relentless dedication to the Communist Party and the civil rights movement. The Young Communist League elected him as their national head in 1937.

Angelo Herndon Negro Quarterly
The Negro Quarterly Vol.1 – from americanmagazinecollection.com

Herndon also co-founded the Negro Quarterly, with Ralph Ellison, in the 1940s. Contributors to the journal included Langston Hughes, Zora Neale Hurston, Alain Locke, and W.E.B. DuBois.

By the mid-1940s, Herndon had become disillusioned with the Communist Party, changing his name to Eugene Braxton and living the rest of his life in Chicago. He only shared his revolutionary past with a few close friends and eventually passed away in 1997 at 84.

 

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Inspirational Legacy

Herndon was courageous and courageous and dedicated his life to justice, hope, and equality. He was fearless in standing up for his convictions, even when imprisoned. By never surrendering his dream of a better world, his life reminds us that we can make a difference.

 

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