Clifton DeBerry, appearing on NBC TV in a N.Y. mayoral debate, October 1965.
DeBerry was a longtime leader of the Socialist Workers Party. As the partys 1964 candidate for president of the United States, he was the first African American to be nominated and to run for that office.
A militant young worker in the l940s, DeBerry participated in union-organizing drives in the South and labor struggles in Chicago. While working at the International Harvester plant on Chicagos west side, he became a figure in the Farm Equipment Workers union and joined the Communist Party. After breaking from the Stalinist movement, DeBerry joined the SWP in 1953. He was elected to the partys National Committee in l957 and served on it and on the partys Control Commission for 25 years.
Faced with mounting health problems, DeBerry dropped his membership in the party by the early 1990s, but remained a loyal supporter.
DeBerry participated in the rise of the civil rights movement, helping to organize a mass protest meeting in Chicago in response to the 1955 lynching of Emmett Till in Mississippi. During the Montgomery bus boycott of 1955-56, he worked with others to organize the Station Wagons to Montgomery Committee that raised funds to purchase vehicles for use by the boycotters.
As the SWP candidate for president, DeBerry supported the Freedom Now Party centered in Michigan, as an example of independent working-class political action in opposition to the Republican and Democratic parties. He lauded Malcolm Xs declaration in March 1964 that he would seek to develop, as the Militant reported, black nationalist political strength and would actively support the civil-rights struggle. DeBerry spoke out in defense of the Cuban Revolution, in support of African liberation struggles, and demanded withdrawal of U.S. troops from Vietnam.
DeBerry joined civil rights marches in Selma, Alabama, in Memphis, Tennessee, and elsewhere. He co-authored the pamphlets Marxism and the Negro Struggle and Murder in MemphisMartin Luther King and the Future of the Black Liberation Struggle.
Several months ago, this reporter visited with DeBerry and his companion Carol, who described the fight they participated in against racists trying to drive a Black family out of the Trumbull Park housing project in racially segregated Chicago in the mid-1950s. Responding to comments about the partys current work among meatpackers, DeBerry noted that he had worked in the big packing plants in Chicago. He beamed with enthusiasm when informed of the Militants fall circulation drive success in more than doubling the initial quota that supporters of the paper had set.
SWP national secretary Jack Barnes will be among the speakers at the April 29 meeting here, at a time and place to be announced. Those wishing to send messages to the meeting may do so by email to the SWP at firstname.lastname@example.org or by postal mail at 3926 Mission St. (front office), San Francisco, CA 94112.
Betsey Stone contributed to this article.
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