Red Myth, Black Hero
A man in traditional cowboy dress stands in front of an Old West-style clothing shop.
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How to Cite

Sayers, L. (2021). Red Myth, Black Hero: Frederick Douglass among the Communists (1935-1945). American Studies, 60(1). Retrieved from


Frederick Douglass was a prominent figure in the Communist Party USA’s imagination in the 1930s and 1940s. Douglass frequently appears in Communist rhetoric in political speeches, pamphlets, newspapers, and novels. This paper examines how the Communist Party invoked the mythology of Douglass, at times beneficially and at others detrimentally, from the Popular Front to the Second World War. Douglass was a figure that allowed black Communists to conceptualize their identity as black, American, and Communist simultaneously. However, inconsistencies in Communist rhetoric contributed to the disenchantment of many black intellectuals with the Communist Party during the Second World War, such as Ralph Ellison, whose Invisible Man includes a scene in which the Douglass myth plays a pivotal role in the narrator’s departure from the Party.

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