William L. Patterson

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William L. Patterson

Template:TOCnestleft William L. Patterson of New York was a leading black member of the Communist Party USA. He was married to Louise Thompson Patterson.

Born in 1891, William L. Patterson died in New York City in 1980.

Early life/education

William L. Patterson, was born in San Francisco on August 27th, 1891, was a Marxist lawyer, author, and civil rights activist. His mother had been born a slave on a Virginia plantation in 1850 and lived there until she was ten. Before the outbreak of the Civil War, Patterson’s mother was liberated and sent west to California, where she met James Edward Patterson, William’s father. Although his family was forced to move from home to home and often struggled with poverty, William L. Patterson managed to graduate from Tamalpais High School at the age of 20 in 1911. Patterson then attended the University of California on and off until he was forced to leave because of irregular attendance.

In 1915, Patterson enrolled at the Hastings College of Law of the University of California in San Francisco. While attending law school, Patterson began to read The Crisis, the official magazine of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP), and became interested in various Marxist and Socialist publications such as The Masses, and The Messenger. After graduating from Hastings with a law degree in 1919, Patterson joined the NAACP[1].

London visit

Soon after graduation Patterson traveled to London, where he met Robert Lansbury, editor and publisher of the London Daily Times, the newspaper of the British Labour Party. After writing an article for the Daily Times on the problems facing the African American population, Patterson returned to the United States where he "vowed to fight for racial justice and equal rights"[2].

Legal practice

By 1923, Patterson had settled in New York. He and two other young lawyers, Thomas Benjamin Dyett and George Hall, opened a law office in Harlem. The firm of Dyett, Hall & Patterson specialized in civil rights issues. The majority of Patterson’s law career involved arguing cases which emphasized and protected the rights of African Americans and individuals Patterson considered wrongly convicted of criminal acts. These cases included the defense of Nicola Sacco and Bartolomeo Vanzetti, and work on the Scottsboro case[3].

Communist Party

Patterson's biography was found in the files of the Communist International in Moscow. Written in 1938, it identifies Patterson as a candidate member of the Communist Party USA Central Committee.

He belonged to the Communist Party USA from 1926 to 1929 and transferred membership to the Communist Party of the Soviet Union from 1929 to 1936. When he was appointed to the Central Committee of the American Communist Party, he resumed his membership in it. He was a delegate to the Sixth Congress of the Communist International in 1928 and to the Tenth Plenum of the Executive of the Comintern in 1930. He also served as an official of the Red International of Labor Unions and as a representative of the Communist International in France.[4].

Abraham Lincoln School

The Abraham Lincoln School for Social Sciences (initially the Worker's School of Chicago), was a Chicago institution of the 1930s and 1940s, run by the Communist Party USA.

Patterson ran the school. The Communist Party USA had a series of schools to both train Communist Party cadre and attract noncommunist young people. Patterson's courses were in the first category.

Faculty members were Morris Backall, Michael Baker, Frank Marshall Davis, Horace Davis, David Englestein, Morton Goldsholl, Pat Hoverder, Alfonso Iannelli, Leon Katzen, Ludwig Kruhe, Herschel Meyer, Henry Noyes, William L. Patterson, Fred Ptashne, Eleanore Redwin, Boris M. Revsine, Frank Sokolik, William Rose, Herman Schendel, Bernice Targ and Morris Topchevsky.

A South Side annex to the school was is located at 4448 South Michigan Avenue, Chicago. Dr. Walter S. Neff was director. Instructors included Albert George, Charlie Mitchell, Lester Fox, Geraldyne Lightfoot, Ishmael Flory, David Englestein, Irving Herman, Earl Durham, Claude Lightfoot and Walter Miller[5].

We Charge Genocide

In 1951, Patterson presented his landmark study “We Charge Genocide” to the general assembly of the United Nations[6].

In it Patterson charged the United States government with the genocide of the African American people. The study documented hundreds of cases of murder, bombings, and torture of African Americans over the past century. It provided details of the "mass murder on the score of race that had been sanctified by law" and stated that "never have so many individuals been so ruthlessly destroyed amid so many tributes to the sacredness of the individual."

Herbert Aptheker Testimonial Dinner

On April 28, 1966 William Patterson was a sponsor of the Herbert Aptheker Testimonial Dinner. The dinner was held on the occasion of Herbert Aptheker's 50th birthday, the publication of his 20th book, and the 2nd anniversary of the American Institute for Marxist Studies. It was held in the Sutton Ballroom, The New York Hilton, Avenue of the Americas, 53rd to 54th Street, New York City. Most speakers, organizers and sponsors were known members or supporters of the Communist Party USA.[7]

Chicago tribute, 1971

In Chicago Oct. 27-The Presidential Ballroom of the Midland Hotel was packed with more than 400 people last Friday to mark the 8Oth birthday of Wiliam L.Patterson, the man who rocked the world with his charge of genocide against the U.S. imperialists. Spokesmen for the committee sponsoring the banquet told the Daily World that many who had delayed in getting reservations had to be turned away. Veterans of the working class movement said they could not remember an occasion bringing together such a broad spectrum of workers, trade unionists and professionals, in a tribute to a Communist leader.[8]

National Anti-Imperialist Conference in Solidarity With African Liberation

William Patterson, Author of We Charge Genocide was named as a sponsor of the Communist Party USA dominated National Anti-Imperialist Conference in Solidarity With African Liberation held at Dunbar Vocational High School, Martin Luther King Drive, Chicago, October 19 to 21 1973.[9]


Patterson published other significant works in his lifetime including Ben Davis: Crusader for Negro Freedom & Socialism, and The Man Who Cried Genocide. In the 1960s Patterson defended Angela Davis and leaders of the Black Panther Party who were subject to arrest. Patterson also served as executive secretary for the International Labor Defense, and leader of the Civil Rights Congress, organizations which fought for African American rights.

The Daily Worker

Patterson contributed to the Daily Worker, which later became People's World after several merges.[10]



  1. http://www.blackpast.org/?q=aah/patterson-william-l-1891-1980
  2. http://www.blackpast.org/?q=aah/patterson-william-l-1891-1980
  3. http://www.blackpast.org/?q=aah/patterson-william-l-1891-1980
  4. Comintern Archives Fond 495, Opis 74, Delo 467, pp. 29-30
  5. "Testimony of Walter S. Steele regarding Communist activities in the United States. Hearings before the Committee on Un-American Activities, House of Representatives, Eightieth Congress, first session, on H. R. 1884 and H. R. 2122, bills to curb or outlaw the Communist Party in the United States. Public law 601 (section 121, subsection Q (2) July 21, 1947" pages 52-53
  6. http://www.blackpast.org/?q=aah/patterson-william-l-1891-1980
  7. Dinner Program for the Herbert Aptheke Dinner, April 28, 1966
  8. Daily World October 28 1971
  9. National Anti-Imperialist Conference in Solidarity With African Liberation - Partial list of sponsors
  10. History of the Daily Worker on Spartacus