File spoon-archives/marxism-international.archive/marxism-international_1997/97-04-21.135, message 56

Date: Sun, 20 Apr 1997 17:47:00 -0400 (EDT)
Subject: M-I: Footnote on Ernest Rice McKinney

---------- Forwarded message ----------
Date: Sun, 20 Apr 1997 12:20:50 -0700 (PDT)
From: Scott McLemee <>
To: Louis N Proyect <>
Subject: Re: your mail

Here you go.
    Ernest Rice McKinney was for a long time the leading black
figure in US Trotskyism.  His exchange with C. L. R. James
increases in interest if we keep a few details about him in mind.  Now
I wish I had included this information in C.L.R. JAMES ON THE
"NEGRO QUESTION" (University Press of Mississippi, 1996).    
    In MAX SHACHTMAN AND HIS LEFT (Humanities Press, 1994),
Peter Drucker writes:  "McKinney grew up in West Virginia, where
his grandfather fought to organize miners and his father was
principal of a Black school.  He joined the National Association for
the Advancement of Colored People and the Socialist Party before the
First World War.  He came back from the war a Communist, worked
with African-American Socialist A. Philip Randolph to organize
Pullman car porters, then became a national leader of the Muste-ite
unemployed movement."  
    Following the tortuous developments of the mid-thirties Left
Opposition organization in the United States, McKinney emerged in
the Workers Party (i.e., those against whom Trotsky wrote IN
DEFENSE OF MARXISM) as a leading figure alongside Max Shachtman
-- and very much against C. L. R. James.  Sometimes working under
the name "David Coolidge," McKinney was the labor secretary for the
party.  (It was he and NOT James who did most of the organizing
work among sharecroppers in Southeast Missouri).    
    By 1950 McKinney left the Shachtmanite organization, and I am
not clear about details from his later life.  He became fascinated by
cybernetics; the extensive bibliography on the topic he prepared
during the early fifties is deposited at the Library of Congress. 
According to Kent Worcester's C.L.R. JAMES:  A POLITICAL
BIOGRAPHY (SUNY Press, 1996), McKinney taught labor history at
Rutgers University during the 1970s.  While remaining nominally a
socialist, he was critical of the black power movement, to put it
mildly.  Like Bayard Rustin, he ended up a supporter of Social
Democrats USA, sometimes aptly called "the State Department


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