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"John Black Presente"

Recorded 4-9-06.

Memorial May 1st Friends Meeting House State College

1) 2:32  Message to Memorial Mp3

Transcript of mumia's comments not yet archived


Article from Workers World Newpaper

JOHN BLACK 1921-2006

Foe of Hitler, organizer of hospital workers

By Deirdre Griswold
Published Mar 23, 2006 1:29 AM

John Black, who died on March 7 at the age of 85, was well known to a wide spectrum of the progressive movement—not just in the United States, but around the world.

John Black
John Black WW photo: Deirdre Griswold

When he joined Sam Marcy and others in founding Workers World Party in 1959, he brought to it his experiences in the anti-fascist underground in Germany when he had been a teenager. He also was already a veteran of the struggle to win better wages and benefits for low-paid workers here.

John would go on to become a leading organizer of health care workers, even as he publicly opposed U.S. imperialist interventions and befriended socialist countries like Cuba and the German Democratic Republic.

He was blunt and often disconcertingly honest. His habit of holding a person’s gaze with a long, questioning stare charmed his friends and disarmed his adversaries. He knew a lot, had been through a lot, and used his skills very effectively both on the picket lines and in negotiations with hospital bosses.

John’s father was a Texan businessman who worked in Berlin and married a German woman. Their son grew up there during the tumultuous years after World War I, when harsh reparations imposed on Germany by the victorious Allies increased the chaos and mass suffering. Millions of workers joined the Communist and Socialist parties. The middle class was also in crisis and looking for a leader.

By the time a worldwide Depression began in earnest and millions of Germans were absolutely destitute, the Nazi Party was already using anti-Semitism and anti-capitalist demagogy to appeal to the ruined and dispossessed—but secretly it was being funded by captains of industry like Fritz von Thyssen and Alfred Krupp.

Hitler’s fanatical anti-communism and hatred of Jews also attracted financing from U.S. multi-millionaires like Henry Ford of Ford Motor Co. and Irenee du Pont, then head of General Motors. They wanted the U.S. to side with Germany in a war against the Soviet Union—and expected fat contracts to sell military vehicles.

Union Banking Corp. and WA Harriman & Co. were also among the U.S. firms with ties to Hitler. George W. Bush’s great-grandfather and grandfather, respectively, were executive officers of these two companies.

John’s parents were conservative, but he admired the family gardener who, like many workers, was a communist. By the time John was a teenager, he was active in the anti-fascist underground, turning out leaflets in the cellar on a hand-pressed gelatin duplicator.

His parents sent the rebellious youth to a prestigious Huguenot school where some of Germany’s future leaders were being groomed. Before long, he was expelled, along with other leftist students. Years later, those who had survived the war received a settlement of $10,000 each. John donated part of his to a defense fund for Mae Mallory—a New York Black Nationalist jailed for supporting people in North Carolina who had fought back against the Ku Klux Klan.

Part of his work for the resistance included skiing in and out of the country along mountainous, unpatrolled areas of the border, carrying documents and valuables. At one point, he left home because his mother threatened to call the police on him. The police caught him once and brought him to Gestapo headquarters. In conversations with comrades, he told of once visiting a government building in the GDR and realizing that it was the former Gestapo building and that his “blood was painted over” on one of the walls.

Just before he reached 18, he left Germany to avoid being drafted or prosecuted and went to England, where he worked for a while with the Communist Party. Because of his critical views about the political situation in Germany, he was accused of being a Trotskyist. Indignant, he read some of Leon Trotsky’s writings to disprove his accusers, but was surprised to find out that he agreed with Trotsky’s general positions.

John’s father had registered him as a U.S. citizen so, in 1940 at the age of 19, he went to New York. He worked in a restaurant and then in a paper box factory, where most of the workers were low-paid immigrant women. There he met Sam Marcy and Dorothy Ballan, the leaders of many militant struggles by the paper-box workers’ union.

Like them, he became a member of the Socialist Workers Party and believed that prosecuting the class struggle, not succumbing to bourgeois patriotism during the second imperialist world war, was the way to defeat fascism and the ultra-right.

Once the Cold War began, however, the Marcy tendency diverged from the SWP leadership on many world issues. Marcy and his close collaborator Vince Copeland argued in the party’s National Committee for strenuous support of the Chinese, Korean and Vietnamese revolutions and for defending the socialist camp, which was under siege, especially in Eastern Europe. These differences led the group to split from the SWP and form Workers World Party in 1959.

By this time, John Black was in Buffalo, N.Y., working in a hospital. He soon married Bernice Bates, a member of a Black community theater group. By 1961, he was working with Local 1199 in organizing hospital and health care workers.

John and Bernice moved several times as the family grew and John’s work took him on organizing drives to New York City, New Jersey and Pennsylvania. Eventually, he became the first president of District 1199P, representing hospital and nursing home employees in Pennsylvania.

In an oral history, Moe Foner, the founder of the hospital workers’ union, told how a strike at Lawrence Hospital in Bronxville, N.Y., got settled after a front-page photo of John Black and other pickets being clubbed by police while rushing the hospital appeared in the New York Times the next day.

Bernice Black remembers that strike well. “Ossie Davis walked the picket line, carrying our son Doug. Sarah Law rence College students brought baba au rhum cakes and other tidbits to the strikers.” William Lawrence had founded both the hospital and the prestigious women’s college.

The leaders of 1199 viewed organizing dietary, laundry and housekeeping workers as part of the civil rights struggle, since most were people of color who were being paid starvation wages. Malcolm X on several occasions spoke in support of the organizing drive.

The family eventually settled down in State College, Pa., where John worked with Students and Youth Against Racism in campaigning for the freedom of revolutionary Black journalist Mumia Abu-Jamal. In his book, “Live from Death Row,” Mumia acknowledges John Black’s unflagging support. John also worked with students on a weekly show, “View from the Left,” aired on Penn State’s radio station.

While still a union leader, he went on delegations to the Soviet Union, the German Democratic Republic and Bulgaria to counteract the virulent anti-communism created by the Cold War.

Even after retiring in 1986, John kept up his travels to countries demonized by the U.S. government. He defied the travel ban and visited Cuba in 1998 and 1999. In 2000, he went to Iraq on a solidarity delegation headed by Ramsey Clark to see and bring back information on the devastating sanctions imposed there, which turned out to be a prelude to an all-out U.S. military assault on that country. While returning from that trip, he suffered a serious heart attack. A group of doctors, who had been assessing Iraq’s medical needs, saved his life with nitroglycerin.

Despite declining health, John kept up his political agitation and his interest in revolutionary history. At the time of his death, he was still doing research on two favorite subjects: the Illuminati, a movement that was a precursor to the French Revolution of 1789, and the life of Tan Malaka, founder of the Indonesian Communist Party.

John Black is survived by his spouse Bernice, their children Mark, Douglass and Jennifer, and two grandchildren—Shango and Zoe. A memorial will be held on May Day at Friends Meeting House in State College, Pa.

[Check out Mumia's latest: *WE WANT FREEDOM:
A Life in the Black Panther Party*, from South
End Press (http://www.southendpress.org); Ph.

"When a cause comes along and you know in your bones that it is
just, yet refuse to defend it--at that moment you begin to die.
And I have never seen so many corpses walking around talking about
justice." - Mumia Abu-Jamal


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Send our brotha some LOVE and LIGHT at:
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175 Progress Drive
Waynesburg, PA 15370


Submitted by: Sis. Marpessa