Benjamin Davis

Benjamin Davis

Benjamin Davis was born in Dawson, Georgia, on 8th September, 1903. The family moved to Atlanta in 1909 where his father became the founder and editor of the Atlanta Independent.

Davis graduated from Morehouse College Academy in 1920. He continued his studies and obtained degrees from Amherst College (1925) and the Harvard Law School (1929).

In 1932 Davis became a lawyer in Atlanta. One of his first cases concerned Angelo Herndon, a member of the American Communist Party, who had led a protest demonstration in the city. Herndon was charged with violating a law enacted by the Georgia legislature in 1861 against slave insurrections. If convicted, Herndon faced the death penalty.

The prosecution claimed that the possession of Communist literature proved that Herndon was a Marxist revolutionary and asked that he be sentenced to the electric chair. During the trial the prosecution constantly described Davis and Herndon as "******s". Whenever Davis addressed the court, the judge turned his back on him and read his newspaper. At the conclusion of the trial the all-white jury returned a verdict of guilty with a recommendation of mercy. As a result, Herndon was sentenced to eighteen years in prison.

Davis was appalled by what he had witnessed in court and decided to join the American Communist Party. He later recalled that the case: "was the turning point in my life. I considered what I could do that would enable me to hit this thing, this Jim Crow System. I considered that the best thing I could do was to join the Communist Party because that would hurt most of all, and so I did."

In 1935 Davis gave up his law practice in Atlanta and went to work for the party in New York. This included editing the newspaper, The Liberator. The following year he joined the Daily Worker.

With the help of his friend, Paul Robeson, Davis was elected to the New York City Council in 1943. Over the next six years Davis campaigned against segregated housing, overcrowding in African American hospitals, police brutality, and the colour bar in the major league baseball.

In July, 1948, Davis and ten other leaders of the American Communist Party was charged with violating the Alien Registration Act. This act made it illegal for anyone in the United States to advocate, abet, or teach the desirability of overthrowing the government.

In October, 1949, after a nine-month trial, Davis was found guilty of violating the act. He was sentenced to five years in prison and a $10,000 fine. He was released from Terre Haute Prison after having served three years and four months.

Davis remained in the American Communist Party and became a close ally of the national chairman, William Z. Foster. This included defending the record of Stalin and the Soviet invasion of Hungary in 1956.

On 15th March, 1962, Davis was charged with violating the Internal Security Act. However, Benjamin Davis died of lung cancer on 22nd August, 1964, before the case came to court.

William Z. Foster, Benjamin Davis, Eugene Dennis,Henry Winston, John Williamson and Jacob Stachelleaving the courthouse in New York (21st July, 1948)
William Z. Foster, Benjamin Davis, Eugene Dennis,
Henry Winston, John Williamson and Jacob Stachel
leaving the courthouse in New York (21st July, 1948)