NEW YORK - A standing room only crowd gathered here in Winston Unity Center on the occasion of Henry Winston's centenary celebration. Winston, who was born in 1912, was the national chairman of the Communist Party for two decades until his death in 1986.
The multi-media celebration of this great African American leader included speeches, music, slideshow and greetings from former coworkers and friends - including one from New York Congressman Charles Rangel. It was streamed live to a national audience and hosted by Judith Leblanc, the national field director of Peace Action.
Noted scholar and political activist Angela Davis brought the multi-racial audience to its feet in her moving tribute to Winston
Davis, who was once a political prisoner said, " [Winston] was a constant inspiration to me, especially when it came to garnering the courage to stand up to attacks I had never imagined would be directed individually at me."
Winston was also a political prisoner, unjustly imprisoned in the McCarthy era where he lost his fight due to poor medical care while there.
Davis went on to speak of Winston's "enduring opposition to corporate capitalism, militarism and racism."
While the Obama administration, she noted, wasn't immune from criticism, the election of the president had created a political climate for labor and social justice activism since 2008.
In another poignant tribute, Charlene Mitchell, the national chair of the Committees for Democracy and Socialism and close co-worker of Winston's, pointed out that "Winston's life was intertwined with the two social forces that would mark his future life - a member of the working class, viciously exploited by the capitalist system and an African American, subjected to the base degradations of national oppression."
Mitchell also said the forces that are poised to reelect President Obama in the November election are the very same forces that can bring about "the fundamental transformation of this society."
Jarvis Tyner, the executive vice chair of the Communist Party, in his tribute remarked that the Winston's thinking "built unity and confidence in the possibility of winning masses of white working people away from the self-defeating ideologies of racism and anticommunism."
Saying that this year's election could turn on the issue of race, Tyner argued "the Republican racist campaign must be solidly defeated at the polls next November."
He added that the Republicans "aim to divert mass anger from millionaires to minorities and immigrants; from Wall Street hustlers to the hungry and the homeless."
Danny Rubin, national board member of Communist Party and co worker of Winston for nearly thirty years, said in his tribute that what Winston "taught us stands in great stead today when the people of our country face so sharp a choice of direction, when they face an extreme right that wants to take everything severely backward ..."
Like the other speakers, he emphasized the importance of the fall elections.
The celebration ended with a wine and cheese reception giving everybody in attendance a chance to talk, look at the visual displays, and pick up a commemoration brochure that includes a biography of Winston's life, excerpts from his writings, and the full speeches of Davis, Mitchell, Tyner and Rubin.
(Brochures can be purchased for $10. Email firstname.lastname@example.org for details.)
Photo: Henry Winston (PoliticalAffairs.net)