History News Network Reviews Reds at the Blackboard

Clarence TaylorWith the recent efforts to weaken teachers’ unions and corporate-led “school reform,” Clarence Taylor’s recently published Reds at the Blackboard: Communism, Civil Rights, and the New York City Teachers Union has taken on a new relevance.

The book was recently reviewed by Robert Parmet in the History News Network. Here is an excerpt from the review:

In his study, Clarence Taylor, professor of history and black and Hispanic studies at Baruch College, explores the nature and extent of the Communist influence. Relying on thorough research and presenting much detail, he finds that the Teachers Union (TU) indeed adopted policies of the Communist Party, but without abandoning the interests of the teachers they led. Though the TU was handicapped by its blind support for the Soviets and the American Communists, it advanced the cause of social unionism, and looked beyond teachers’ working conditions to eradicate such evils as racism and poverty and create a more just society. As the TU “blurred the line between its work on behalf of teachers and promoted Communist policies,” it drew sharp criticism, which in 1941 led to the revocation of the American Federation of Teachers charter it had held since 1916. Remaining committed to social unionism, it joined the Congress of Industrial Organizations, from which it would be ousted in 1950….

Within this generally distressing account of leftists under siege [during the Cold War] there are some surprises. One is a fascinating account of the TU’s campaign to promote black history. Despite the union’s decline under the anti-Communist assault in the 1950s, it persisted in championing racial equality, contending that, along with democracy, it was basic to education. This view motivated campaigns to eliminate racist textbooks from the public schools and increase the teaching of black history and the number of black teachers in the schools. Another surprise is a chapter on the role of women in the TU. By discussing Bella Dodd, Rose Russell and other female activists Taylor adds a women’s history dimension to his study.

Leave a Reply