Claude M. Lightfoot papers [manuscript], 1950-1985, n.d. (bulk 1969-1985)


Descriptive Inventory for the Collection at Chicago History Museum, Research Center

By Nancy L. Webster, 1994; rev. 2008.


Please address questions to:

Chicago History Museum, Research Center

1601 North Clark Street

Chicago, IL 60614-6038



© Copyright 2008, Chicago Historical Society, 1601 North Clark St., Chicago, IL 60614-6038

This collection was processed with assistance of a grant from U.S. Department of Education, Title II-C Program, 1993-1994.



Main entry: Lightfoot, Claude M., 1910-1991

Title: Claude M. Lightfoot papers [manuscript], 1950-1985, n.d. (bulk 1969-1985)

Inclusive Dates: 1950-1985, n.d. (bulk 1969-1985)

Extent: 1.5 linear ft. (3 boxes)

            8 sound cassettes.

Restrictions: For listening purposes, it is necessary to use a copy, not the original (and to have a listening copy made if one is not available).

Provenance statement: The Claude M. Lightfoot papers were donated to Chicago Historical Society by Dr. Lightfoot on 10 June 1986.


This descriptive inventory includes:

Brief biography,

Description of the collection,

Description of some related material,

List of online catalog headings,

Container list of box and folder numbers and titles.


Brief biography:

Claude M. Lightfoot was a prominent African American official in the Communist Party (CPUSA). He was highly visible and active on local, national and international levels and often represented the CPUSA in Eastern European and other Communist countries. Lightfoot was politically active from his teen years until his death in 1991. Born in Lake Village, Arkansas in 1910, Lightfoot was reared by his grandmother until 1918 when the Lightfoot family moved to Chicago as part of the Great Migration of southern African Americans to the North. The Chicago Race Riots of 1919 stirred Lightfoot's interest in issues of politics and racial equality.  He joined the Marcus Garvey’s movement; but soon became convinced the ideology was unworkable.


In the 1920s Lightfoot joined the Democratic Party. He became a member of the Speaker's Bureau of the Chicago Democratic Party and helped to found the Young Men's Black Democratic Club in Chicago (1930).  Party leaders considered him a young man of great promise. Lightfoot also attended Virginia Union University for a short time--until it was discovered that he did not have a high school diploma. He returned to Chicago in 1929 convinced that the answer to the plight of African Americans would be found in business enterprise.  However, the Great Depression and the lack of progress and action regarding Blacks' financial and political plight convinced Lightfoot otherwise. 


In 1931 Lightfoot joined the CPUSA. In the summer of 1932 he attended (Communist) Party Training School and the same year Lightfoot received 33,000 votes in a race for Illinois State Legislature on the Communist Party ticket.  By 1935 Lightfoot was a delegate to the Seventh World  Congress of the Communist International in the Soviet Union. 


Lightfoot enlisted in the U.S. Army in 1941. The prejudiced treatment of both Communist and Black soldiers by the U.S. Army deepened Lightfoot's belief in socialist government. He resumed his CPUSA activities upon his return from the war three years later.  In 1946 Lightfoot prepared to run for the Illinois State Senate on the CPUSA ticket; however, his petition was successfully challenged, however, by the Democratic Party. The Cold War had begun. Lightfoot ran a write-in campaign against the advice of the CPUSA's Illinois leadership: over one-thousand votes were officially cast for Lightfoot (he contended that many votes were not counted by the election judges).


On June 26, 1954, Lightfoot was arrested on the basis of a secret indictment returned by a federal grand jury in May. He was charged with membership in the Communist Party and knowledge of the Party's objectives "to teach and advocate the overthrow of the government of the United States by force and violence as speedily as circumstances would permit" as specified in the Membership Clause of the Smith Act of 1946. This was the first indictment under this clause of the Smith Act.  The Lightfoot case was a test case for both the defense and prosecution.  Lightfoot was Executive Secretary of the Communist Party of Illinois at the time of his indictment and he believed that the U.S. government targeted him in order to send a message to Black Americans to stay away from the Communists (and from civil rights activities in general).


The Lightfoot case was appealed all the way to the U.S. Supreme Court, where Lightfoot was acquitted in 1964.  1964 was also the year that the provision of the McCarren Act that withheld passports to CPUSA members was struck down by the U.S. Supreme Court.


From 1964 until his death in 1991 Lightfoot worked for the CPUSA as a party officer and sought to advancement of socialist and Communist Marxist-Leninist ideals.  He wrote many books and articles about racism and communism.  Lightfoot also traveled and lectured regarding these subjects throughout the world. 


Lightfoot was honored for his activities in the United States and abroad (but mostly in Eastern Europe and the Soviet Union).  In 1973 he received an honorary doctorate from the Universität Rostock for his book, Racism and Human Survival: Lessons of Nazi Germany for Today's World.  Others who honored him included W.E.B. DuBois Clubs of America and the Bulgarian and Soviet Communist parties.


Lightfoot married Geraldyne Gray in 1938.  She also became an organizer for the CPUSA. They adopted a son Earl (ca. 1955) who was disabled.  Geraldyne Lightfoot, undoubtedly the love of Lightfoot's life, died of cancer in 1962.  Lightfoot remarried in 1965.  His new wife Joyce was also active in the CPUSA. Details about Lightfoot's personal life are sketchy after 1969.  There are references to Joyce up to 1980; however, there are also references to a wife named Carole in the early 1970s.  Lightfoot adopted a daughter named Tanya in the 1960s. In 1973 he moved to Gary, Indiana where he resided (when not traveling) until his death in 1991.


Lightfoot's life, personal and professional, is chronicled in his autobiography, Chicago Slums to World Politics: Autobiography of Claude M. Lightfoot (CHM library call number F548.26 L515 1986).


Description of the collection:

Correspondence, speech and manuscript notes and drafts, publicity information, reviews of his books, and news clippings, drafts and copies of Lightfoot's newspaper columns in the Chicago Courier, award certificates, and other papers of Claude M. Lightfoot, an African American author, Chicago resident, political candidate, and member of the Communist Party U.S.A.'s national committee. Topics are court actions against him relating to his Communist affiliation; his political activities as an advocate for racial and political equality; and his views, stated in speeches that he presented on U.S. campuses and in Eastern Europe, advocating a Marxist path for Black liberation. Sound recordings include speeches by and about Lightfoot.


The collection is divided into three series:

Series 1: Topical file, 1969-1981

Series 2: Publications, 1950-1977

Series 3: Sound Recordings, 1974-1979 (8 audio cassette tapes)(0MM.190)


Series 1: Topical file, 1969-1982 (Box 1)

This series includes material by and about Lightfoot. It consists of speech and manuscript notes and drafts, publicity information, drafts and copies of his newspaper columns in the Chicago Courier, clippings, one folder of incoming correspondence, and other miscellany regarding Lightfoot's activities and writings. This series is arranged by topic.


Series 2: Publications, 1950-1981 (Boxes 2-3)

This series contains journal articles, pamphlets, monographs and speeches by Lightfoot. These writings document both the views and scope of Lightfoot’s beliefs and as well his activities.  The series is arranged alphabetically by title.


Series 3: Sound recordings, 1974-1979 (8 cassettes)(0MM.190)

This series consists of recordings of lectures by and about Lightfoot regarding Marxism and racism and African Americans in American and world politics.  This series is arranged chronologically.


Description of some related material:

Related materials at Chicago History Museum, Research Center, include documents from Lightfoot's prosecution under the Smith Act, including records of the Lightfoot Defense Committee, that are located in the Chicago Committee to Defend the Bill of Rights records. Also at the Research Center are the Claude M. Lightfoot collection of visual materials (1986.0823); and several items by and about Lightfoot in the library. A medal from the Soviet Union is in Decorative and Industrial Arts.


List of online catalog headings:


Lightfoot, Claude M., 1910-1991.

Communist Party of the United States of America

African American authors--Illinois--Chicago--20th century.

African American politicians--Illinois--Chicago--20th century.

African American communists--20th century.

African Americans--Civil rights

Authors, American--Illinois--Chicago--20th century.

Blacks--Race identity

Communism--United States--20th century.

Communist trials--20th century.

Internal security--United States--20th century.

United States--Illinois--Cook County--Chicago.




Audio cassettes.

Manuscripts (for publication).




Added entries:

Communist Party of the United States of America

Political affairs (Periodical).



Container list of box and folder numbers and titles:

Series 1: Topical file, 1969-1982 (Box 1)

Box 1


1          "Black liberation in a Socialist, Asian and African Perspective" lecture, Fisk University 1969

2          "Black power and independence"--commentary, n.d.

3          "Black power, labor power"--commentary, n.d.

4          "Black power and related matters"--notes, n.d.

5          "Black power and related matters"--notes, n.d.

6          Boston visit, ca 1977

7          Clippings regarding Lightfoot's activities, 1969-1978, 1985, n.d.

8          Chicago Courier--Lightfoot column, 1975-1976, ca. 1976

9          Communist Party USA--Citation, 1981

10        Correspondence--incoming, 1970-1982, n.d.

11        Ghetto rebellion to Black liberation--publicity, ca. 1973

12        Honorary PhD from Universität Rostock--commentary and speeches, 1973

13        "Human rights U.S style: from the New Deal until today...V.II--manuscript, ca. 1977

14        "Human rights U.S style: VII: struggle for a people's government, 1928-1980"--unpublished manuscript by Joyce and Claude Lightfoot, ca. 1980

15        "Human rights U.S style"--publicity, 1978

16        "Human rights U.S style"--review by William L. Patterson, 1978

17        Invitations, 1972, 1974

18        Lightfoot/Jones family reunion--program, 1981

19        North American Section of the International Commission on Racism--conference schedule, 1972

20        Ostee-Zeitung, interview with, 1973

21        Racism and human survival--publicity, ca. 1972

22        Racism and human survival--reviews, 1972

23        "Salute to Black history honoring Dr. Claude [M.] Lightfoot", Feb. 11, 1979 program, publicity, & press release, 1978-1979 (see also cassettes 6&7)

26        "Session on power"--commentary and notes, n.d.

27        "Shame of America: the nation takes a look at human rights" Antioch College, Mar. 23-26, 1978

28        Speaking engagement--arrangement, 1976

29        Speaking engagements--publicity and texts, 1978-1979, n.d.

30-31   "Strategy and tactics for Black liberation" (Op-ed column, Chicago Courier--drafts and correspondence, ca. 1976

32        W.E.B. DuBois Award Reception, ca. 1973


Series 2. Publications, 1950-1977 (Boxes 2-3)

Box 2

1          "An American looks at Russia: can we live together in peace?" 1950

2          "Black America and the World Revolution" 1970

3          "Black power and liberation" 1967

4          "Black power to working class power" in Political affairs Oct. 1970

5          "Centrality of the struggle for Black liberation" in Political affairs (reprint) Sept. 1977

6          "The Civil War and Black liberation today" Political affairs Jan. 1969

7          "The Civil War and Black liberation today" in Political affairs (reprint) Jan. 1969

8          "Education against racism in the GDR" in Political affairs Feb. 1972

9          "The Effect of education on racism: the two German states and the USA" 1973

10        "Four score years in freedoms fight" 1971

11        Ghetto rebellion to Black liberation 1968

12        Ghetto rebellion to Black liberation (Hungarian? translation) 1969

13        Ghetto rebellion to Black liberation (Russian translation) 1972

14        Human rights U.S. style: from colonial times through the New Deal" 1977

15        Der Kampf für die Befreiung der Afroamerikaner 1973

16        "Leadership quality and the draft program perspectives" in Political affairs June 1954


Box 3

1          "Negro liberation: a goal for all Americans" 1964

2          "The Negro liberation movement in 1961" in Political affairs, Feb. 1961

3          Pamphlet on education against racism 1973

4          O Poder negro em revolta 1969

5-6       Proceedings of the Seventh Congress of the Communist Party of India: VII: Greetings, Bombay, 13-23 December 1964 (with speech by Lightfoot)

7          Racism and human survival: lessons of Nazi Germany for today's world 1972

8          "Racism in U.S school textbooks" in Political affairs June 1973

9          "Turning point in freedom road: the fight to end jim crow now" 1962

10        "U.S. racist policies in today's world": Report presented at a meeting of the World Peace Council's Commission on Racism, held in Brussels on May 29-30, 1972

11        "USSR and USA: A contrast" in Political affairs Dec. 1972

12        "We charge genocide" in Political affairs Feb. 1971


Series 3. Sound recordings, 1971-1979 (8 cassettes)

Restriction: For listening purposes, it is necessary to use a copy, not the original (and to have a listening copy made if one is not available).

1          Celebration of publication of book, Racism and human survival, by Claude M. Lightfoot (Chicago, IL) January 1971

2          "Lightfoot mtg. III: Claude's Speech" 1973

3          Lecture (Miami, FL) 1974

4          "Human rights U.S. style"/? College (Milwaukee, WI) 1976

5          Blacks Unite Fund (Boston) 1978

6          Salute to Black history honoring Dr. Claude [M.] Lightfoot, Feb. 11, 1979 (1)

7          Salute to Black history honoring Dr. Claude [M.] Lightfoot: his speech, Feb. 11, 1979 (2)

8          "Black Capitalism or Socialism?"