During the heyday of the U.S. and international labor movements in the 1930s and 1940s, Ferdinand Smith, the Jamaican-born co-founder and second-in-command of the National Maritime Union (NMU), stands out as one of the most—if not the most—powerful black labor leaders in the United States. Smith’s active membership in the Communist Party, however, coupled with his bold labor radicalism and shaky immigration status, brought him under continual surveillance by U.S. authorities, especially during the Red Scare in the 1950s. Smith was eventually deported to his homeland of Jamaica, where he continued his radical labor and political organizing until his death in 1961.
Gerald Horne draws on Smith’s life to make insightful connections between labor radicalism and the Civil Rights Movement—demonstrating that the gains of the latter were propelled by the former and undermined by anticommunism. Moreover, Red Seas uncovers the little-known experiences of black sailors and their contribution to the struggle for labor and civil rights, the history of the Communist Party and its black members, and the significant dimensions of Jamaican labor and political radicalism.
“Red Seas is biographical history at its best. It provides a glimpse into the life of one of the most powerful Black labor leaders in U.S. history, describes the trials and tribulations, the successes and failures, of building an independent, Communist-led union, and gives the reader a general feeling for the times. Horne has done all trade-unionist and working-class people a service with Red Seas. It is highly recommended.”
“This book opens a window on Popular Front activities that might otherwise be forgotten... The book is an important study of the labor movement in the 20th century, and the National Maritime Union in particular, a mighty voice for the seamen during its years of greatest strength.”
—The Journal of African American History
“The political connections of Harlem and the British West Indies have been crucial for at least a century, but until recent times almost invisible except to those intimately involved…. We are now, at long last, beginning to get a better grasp, and Gerald Horne’s Red Seas is a huge contribution to our understanding.”
—Paul Buhle, Monthly Review
“Horne's latest work is a forceful tract that all scholars writing about radical maritime politics, unionism, and race must take into account. Horne thus sets the standard for future scholars in this area.”
“In our own age of global commerce and U.S. hyperpower, what could be more instructive than the story of Ferdinand Smith, the Caribbean Communist who led a genuinely international, multicultural union in the years that birthed the American century? Gerald Horne's remarkable biography should be required reading for those who want to glimpse the potential power of that seafaring proletariat, in the last century as well as ours.”
—Nelson Lichtenstein, author of State of the Union: A Century of American Labor
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