Louise Thompson Patterson

A Life of Struggle for Justice

Book Pages: 328 Illustrations: 24 illustrations Published: September 2017

Author: Keith Gilyard

African American Studies and Black Diaspora, General Interest > Biography, Letters, Memoirs, History > U.S. History

Born in 1901, Louise Thompson Patterson was a leading and transformative figure in radical African American politics. Throughout most of the twentieth century she embodied a dedicated resistance to racial, economic, and gender exploitation. In this, the first biography of Patterson, Keith Gilyard tells her compelling story, from her childhood on the West Coast, where she suffered isolation and persecution, to her participation in the Harlem Renaissance and beyond. In the 1930s and 1940s she became central, along with Paul Robeson, to the labor movement, and later, in the 1950s, she steered proto-black-feminist activities. Patterson was also crucial to the efforts in the 1970s to free political prisoners, most notably Angela Davis. In the 1980s and 1990s she continued to work as a progressive activist and public intellectual. To read her story is to witness the courage, sacrifice, vision, and discipline of someone who spent decades working to achieve justice and liberation for all.


(Starred Review) "An important book in helping to understand the persistent racism faced by African Americans in this country and what individuals can do to help fight against the injustice." — Amy Lewontin, Library Journal

"It’s fascinating to read biographies of Black women, particularly those for women as complex and layered as Louise Thompson Patterson.... Gilyard offers a look at one of the most dynamic Black women who’s ever walked the Earth." — Evette Dionne, Bitch

"Louise Thompson Patterson is the finest sort of biography: impeccably researched and chock full of detail, it also compels the reader by crafting a powerful image of the world in which Louise and her comrades lived and struggled.... Gilyard has offered a masterful portrayal of a key figure in 20th century American history; more importantly his work reminds us there are heroes—imperfect people, like all humans, yet heroes nonetheless—whose commitment, idealism, and perseverance can still serve as an inspiration for us today." — Hans Rollman, PopMatters

"[T]he story of a highly engaged African American Leftist who remained true to her convictions over the course of the 20th century. Recommended. Upper-division undergraduates and above." — J. E. Anderson, Choice

"Keith Gilyard offers deep and invaluable insight into the life of one of the most important Black leftists of the twentieth century." — Charisse Burden-Stelly, Black Perspectives

"A compelling narrative of political development. . . . We are fortunate to have Gilyard’s informed, sensitive account of a Black woman of the Left." — Cheryl Higashida, Against the Current

"This pioneering biography deftly contributes to the emerging historiography on radical black feminists." — Anthony J. Stanonis, Journal of American History

"Louise Thompson Patterson has brought Patterson’s story to life through abundant research and appropriate admiration." — Paul Buhle, Science & Society

"Louise Thompson Patterson is a compelling, descriptive, and engaging narrative. . . . A welcome addition to existing biographical studies on radical black women political leaders." — LaShawn Harris, Left History

"Gilyard’s work is a good contribution to the field of African American struggle in the United States during the twentieth century. It is accessible, insightful, and provocative." — Anna Hamling, Journal for the Study of Radicalism

“Bravo! Another elegant, inspiring, and complex chapter in the history of black radical internationalism has been written. And not surprisingly, the brazen intellectual and organizer at the center of the story is a woman. In this case that woman is the passionate, persistent, and worldly Louise Thompson Patterson. Professor Gilyard has given us a great narrative gift in this thoroughly researched and powerfully written biography of such an important figure in black left history.” — Barbara Ransby, author of Eslanda: The Large and Unconventional Life of Mrs. Paul Robeson

"The incredible story of Louise Thompson Patterson needed to be told, and Keith Gilyard delivered. A beautiful, dynamic account of one of the most dangerous, courageous, and brilliant women of the twentieth century, this work tracks Thompson Patterson into the very epicenter of U.S. and international radical art, culture, and insurgent movements. Wherever she went—Harlem or Chicago, Berkeley or Birmingham, Moscow or Madrid—eruptions inevitably followed." — Robin D. G. Kelley, author of Hammer and Hoe: Alabama Communists during the Great Depression


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Author/Editor Bios Back to Top

Keith Gilyard is Edwin Erle Sparks Professor of English and African American Studies at Pennsylvania State University and the author and editor of numerous books, including True to the Language Game: African American Discourse, Cultural Politics, and Pedagogy and John Oliver Killens: A Life of Black Literary Activism.

Table of Contents Back to Top
List of Abbreviations  ix
Acknowledgments   xi
Introduction 1
1. Louise Alone, 1901–1916  7
2. California Community, 1917–1925  26
3. Shades of Control, 1925–1928  42
4. Harlem Kaleidoscope, 1928–1932  61
5. Madam Moscow, 1932   81
6. The Struggle Has Nine Lives, 1932–1934  97
7. Popular Fronts, 1935–1937  113
8. Ba Ba Ba Bop, 1937–1940  129
9. Bronzeville Brigades, 1941–1949  145
10. Sojourns and Sojourners, 1949–1959  162
11. A Fairer Public Hearing, 1960–1969  182
12. Confirming Commitments, 1970–1984  195
13. Still Reaching, 1984–1999  212
Notes  231
Bibliography  271
Index  283
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Paper ISBN: 978-0-8223-6992-9 / Cloth ISBN: 978-0-8223-6985-1
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