Reginald Wilson: A Black American Socialist (1927–2020)

“I participated in all aspects of the publication, from writing, editing, and drawing cartoons to traveling the country on behalf of our newsletter. Correspondence discussed the labor movement and politics, but it also featured Black artists, and some issues were devoted to the Black visual arts in Detroit as well as to publishing Black poetry,” Reg recalled. In a series of articles called “What Are We Fighting for Anyway?” Reg discussed the civil rights movements as “a revolutionary struggle for freedom.”

As a staff member for Correspondence covering the movement, Reg traveled to Harlem, New York City, to Prince Edward County, Virginia, and to Atlanta to get to know the movement there led by Martin Luther King. In Monroe, North Carolina, Reg connected with Robert F. Williams, the organizer of a Black armed self-defense organization and later author of Negroes with Guns. In 1961, Reg undertook the dangerous task of delivering guns to Williams and the Monroe organization. He also led the Detroit Committee to Aid the Monroe Defendants.[1] Reg also traveled to meet movement activists in the Caribbean and Africa. During various travels in the 1960a and 1970s, he had an opportunity to meet and talk with C.L.R. James. “These meetings gave me some appreciation of the giant intellect and the broad historical knowledge of the man,” Reg wrote.

The majority of people of color, however, are barred from access to quality schooling before they are born by the twin evils of this society — race and class, which are byproducts of the capitalist system, but operate independently from it. In spite of undeniable progress, the majority of people of color are burdened by lifelong oppression, poverty and racism.

For those reasons he believed affirmative action continued to be essential to the struggle against racism and discrimination.

We must as socialists demand the best outcome for the greatest number of people; we cannot ask for less. We must not be seduced by the usual perception of seeing elite education as being only for those who have gone to good public or elite high schools. With the decline in integrated schools, the judicial failure of Brown and the wealth gap increasing for blacks and Hispanics, there is the danger of throwing up our hands and abandoning those who are the focus of our efforts. We may have lost the force of Brown, at least for the foreseeable future. We must not lose the people whom Brown was intended to save.

To take one final example, in his 2006 essay “On Affirmative Action,” Reg argued that affirmative action had been severely weakened, but he continued.

That does not mean that blacks should give up the fight. That means they must fight with even more ferocity for affirmative action. There are 37 million people in poverty in the United States. That is 12.7 percent of the population. That is the highest percentage of poor in the developed world. Twenty-five percent of blacks are in poverty and 22 percent of Hispanics. The poorest place in the United States is the Pine Ridge Indian Reservation. The only place poorer in the Western hemisphere is Haiti. These people are all Americans. They are all part of a gathering storm. They are the silent brothers and sisters whom no one talks about but who will not go away. They are the ultimate focus of affirmative action. They pose the question that was proposed in 1776: “What are we prepared to do to achieve democracy?

As these few paragraphs suggest, Reg was a critical analyst of American racism, a strong advocate for affirmative action, and one who not only demonstrated that in his essays but who could until shortly before his death be found on the streets marching and demonstration for the values in which he believed. And even after he turned 90, he took the train from Washington to New York to participate in the New Politics editorial board meetings.

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