Lloyd Brown

(b. 1913)

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(1913-2003), novelist, short fiction writer, journalist, and editor of New Masses and Masses and Mainstream.

Lloyd Louis Brown grew up in an African American home for the elderly. His short story “God's Chosen People” (1948) is based on this experience. Brown had little formal education beyond elementary school; he was self-taught. In 1929, Brown joined the Young Communist Youth League.

A trade union organizer for many years, Brown was incarcerated for seven months in 1941 on conspiracy charges. His prison experience and friendship with the inmate Willie Jones became the basis for his novel Iron City (1951), which exposes the Jim Crow nature of the prison system and suggests communism as the answer to the American racial question.

The stories “Jericho, USA” (1946) and “Battle in Canaan” (1947), which center on African American troops being trained for World War II, depict Jim Crow in the army and, like his other fiction, are rich with the folk traditions of Brown's people. Brown spent three and a half years in the army air force during the war.

Brown was an editor of the communist journals New Masses and Masses and Mainstream (1946–1954), to which he contributed short stories, editorials, articles, and book reviews. He often reviewed works by African American writers. He always reviewed on political grounds, criticizing anticommunist ideas and negative characteristics of African Americans. In his editorials and articles Brown discusses many subjects: racism, civil rights, white chauvinism, censorship, McCarthyism, and the Smith Act.

Perhaps Brown's most important essay is “Which Way for the Negro Writer?” (1951). Brown contradicts his contemporaries who argue for universality and distance from African American subject matter, by asserting that African American writers need to work toward their own people and move with them to universality. He denies that there is a contradiction between universal themes and African American subject matter or forms, claiming that the problem with African American literature is that it has not been close enough to the African American people and culture.

Brown wrote an unpublished novel, Year of Jubilee, a chapter of which appeared in Masses and Mainstream in 1953 as “Cousin Oscar”, but did not publish the novel because literary critics advised against it.

In 1953, for personal not philosophical reasons, Lloyd Brown left the Communist Party. Unlike many other African American authors, Brown did not denounce communism or the Communist Party. He worked for many years with Paul Robeson, collaborating on Robeson's Freedom articles and autobiography Here I Stand. In 1996, Brown published The Young Paul Robeson. Although his ideas were disseminated widely in the communist journals, his work is largely ignored today

Jabari Onaje Simama, “Black Writers Experience Communism,” PhD diss., Emory University, 1978.

Karen Ruth Kornweibel

Subjects: Literature.

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