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Erik Visits an American Grave, Part 217

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This is the grave of Claude and Geraldine Lightfoot.

Claude Lightfoot was born in 1910 in Arkansas. At the age of 7 or 8, near the beginning of the Great Migration, his family left for better opportunities in Chicago. Although a child, he was certainly old enough for the 1919 Chicago race riots to make a lifetime impression on him, moving him toward the fight for justice. As a teenager, he became particularly interested in the ideas of Marcus Garvey, but soon decided they were unworkable. Instead, he became interested in an ideology Garvey hated: communism. Actually, Garvey hated pretty much any economic organizing by black workers that wasn’t about his own movement and was happy to work with capitalists if they supported him, but that’s for a different post. Anyway, his political journey took him briefly into the Democratic Party by the late 1920s but he converted to the Communist Party by 1932, when he ran for state legislature for the CP. He received 33,000 votes in that race. His was a lifetime communist by that point. In 1935, he visited the Soviet Union as a delegate to the Seventh World Congress of the Communist International. Like any good communist, he opposed US intervention into World War II until the precise moment that the Nazis declared war on the Soviets in 1941, when he became a huge and ardent believer in the war. He volunteered for the military and fought in the war. But disgusted by the racism in the military, he returned to civilian life determined to fight for racial equality under the communist banner. He ran again for the Illinois legislature in 1946, this time over the wishes of CPUSA officials.

In 1954, Lightfoot was arrested with secret charges of being in violation of the Smith Act of 1940, making the hope for the violent overthrow of the American government illegal. All he had done to make this happen was run for elected office. Here’s some good CPUSA propaganda over the persecution he faced, along with Junius Scales, another communist leader. He appealed his conviction to the Supreme Court in a long process that lasted a decade, before he was acquitted in 1964. He had married Geraldine (sometimes spelled Geraldyne) Gray, a native of Mississippi whose family had also moved north in the Great Migration, in 1938. She was also a CPUSA organizer, although as a woman, she was not afforded the organizing opportunities of Claude. I’m not able to find much information about her outside of this, other than a reference in communist John Gilman’s autobiography mentioning her rallying communists for her husband’s case and speaking out about the Emmett Till lynching. They adopted a disabled son in 1955. She died of cancer in 1962. Claude remarried twice it seems, although as an older man without much money, the public record is sketchy in his later life. He eventually moved to Gary, Indiana in 1973, where he died in 1991.

Claude and Geraldine Lightfoot are buried in Forest Home Cemetery, Forest Park, Illinois.

If you would like this series to profile other, largely unknown today, American communists, you can donate to cover the expenses here. Previous posts are archived here.

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