Black Alabama’s Homegrown … Communism?

Rosa Parks walked through the streets of segregated Alabama. Determined and resolute, she was on her way to conduct one of her very first acts of rebellion against the Jim Crow laws that controlled her state. But she didn’t make her way to a bus stop — protesting segregated seating would come later in her life. She was headed instead to a secret gathering, one of her first political forays: an underground communist meeting, filled with Black socialist Alabamians.

While Parks is world-famous, her communist background — which predates the civil rights movement as most people perceive it — is a key and untold part of her story. Some historians even argue that it only makes sense that Alabama, the cradle of the civil rights movement, was also a place with a robust communist circle (perhaps not in terms of numbers, but in influence).

“In places with a strong communist presence, the civil rights movement was also strong,” explains historian Robin D.G. Kelley, author of Hammer and Hoe whose work focuses on Black Americans and communism. The party, he says, was essential to laying the infrastructure of the civil rights movement in Alabama.

Many civil rights leaders learned from communist teachings. Hosea Hudson, the famous Southern African-American labor leader, studied Marxism in Russia. Organizers Asbury Howard and Anne Braden were both affiliated with the party, while Angela Davis grew up around communist culture in Birmingham. Parks also had ties to the party — while she was never a member, she is reported to have attended communist-led meetings in her early years of activism, while her husband, Raymond, was much closer to the party.

Hosea Hudson … swore me to secrecy. He said, ‘If you ever tell anyone about Rosa Parks coming to our meetings, then I’m gonna come and track you down.’

Robin D.G. Kelley, author of Hammer and Hoe

Although the number of communists in Alabama was not comparable to that of New York or other northern metro cities, the state’s African American community was quite a stronghold for communist activity among Black Americans. Birmingham, in particular, was the center of Southern industry, with a Black working class so prominent that the area was nicknamed the Black Belt.

Birmingham was naturally targeted by the Communist International, an organization that sought to build a worldwide communist society, as a promising source of Black American converts. The party’s rejection of racial discrimination as a capitalistic form of worker exploitation, as well as the rhetoric of a “new world,” deeply resonated among African Americans. If one totals the Alabama chapter of the Communist Party USA’s dues-paying members and other auxiliary organizations like International Labor Defense (ILD) and the Sharecroppers’ Union, around 20,000 Alabamians had a relationship with the party at its height.

One of the most famous communist involvements in American politics was the 1931 case of the Scottsboro Boys, in which two white women falsely accused nine Black teenagers of rape. While the NAACP’s legal strategy was to try to win in a court of law, the ILD — the legal arm of the Communist Party — had developed an even more powerful strategy: to try the case in the court of public opinion. They instigated speeches and rallies in support of the Scottsboro Nine around the world. Some scholars saw this as a clear case of communist involvement that undermined support in America for a legitimate cause. It was an “intense communist campaign,” writes Paul Kengor in his book The Communist, and one that “compounded an already tragic situation.”

But some argue otherwise: By galvanizing international public support for the Scottsboro Nine, “‘Scottsboro’ became synonymous with Southern racism, repression and injustice,” writes historian Dan T. Carter. “Truth is,” says Kelley, “they would have gotten the death penalty if it was not for that pressure. So they [ILD] are responsible for saving them. The tragedy is that they got jail time, but they did save their lives.” Additionally, by trying to push the case in the face of public opinion, the communist press was changing international discourse about African Americans. They challenged the stereotype of Black men as criminals, presenting them as victims of injustice and Black women as grieving mothers.

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A communist presence in the U.S. is a much different history lesson when it comes to Black Americans.

Source Sandya/OZY

The Scottsboro case is still remembered today as a foreign infiltration into American politics and an outside force meddling in domestic issues: “Communist organizers saw a great opportunity to exploit that case as a recruiting mechanism for Black Americans,” says Kengor. Communism is often seen as alien to American culture and history, when in fact the Communist Party of Alabama appears to have been very much native and homegrown. Meetings organized by Black communists were often intertwined with prayers and religion. This relationship between Christianity, something so integral to everyday Southern life, and communism, something so seemingly foreign, was actually more common than one might believe. Kelley argues that while communism was often presented as godless, the ideology is itself a kind of faith. “Therefore, to me the most die-hard communists were the most religious, even if they call themselves atheists,” he says.

Historical discourse often vilifies outsiders for attempting to disrupt communities. Yet for the Black workers of Alabama — who felt isolated and surrounded by hostile forces — communism was an international force offering protection and solidarity. Still, communism’s reputation in America was so toxic that activists who had embraced its ideals often hid their origins. “Hosea Hudson, who I interviewed, swore me to secrecy,” Kelley says. “He said, ‘If you ever tell anyone about Rosa Parks coming to our meetings, then I’m gonna come and track you down.’” But those reputations have softened with the years. “Eventually,” Kelley says, “Hosea told the world himself.”

The (Deferred) Class of 2020

  • Colleges and experts expect a steep increase in deferrals this year.
  • That will hurt schools’ finances — and could partly choke the access pipeline for high schoolers who graduate next year.

When Chloe Aquino was accepted into the graduate program at the Berklee College of Music campus in Valencia, Spain, she imagined she would spend the final weeks of this summer preparing for the thrill of studying internationally and breathing in the fresh air of the Mediterranean Sea. Instead, she’s struggling to obtain a student visa while facing travel restrictions, preparing to potentially attend classes from the four walls of her bedroom, and grappling with that defining decision: whether to attend college now, or later.

Aquino isn’t alone. As the coronavirus pandemic continues to rage and many colleges stay largely online, a growing number of students are choosing to defer higher education instead of accepting a remote college experience unlike anything they’ve grown up dreaming of. And that’s sparking a chain reaction affecting the finances of colleges and the chances of college aspirants next year.

Polling in May by the student analytics firm College Reaction shows that 4 percent of all college-going students plan to withdraw from school temporarily. Typically, colleges see a deferral rate at around 1 or 2 percent from accepted students — but this year, experts expect that number to be significantly higher, says Craig Goebel, a principal at the higher education consulting firm Art & Science Group.

Before this, I never really considered it … and I think it has been very helpful.

Preston Carlson, Stanford student who took a leave of absence in the spring

Typically, university administrators use college deposits — minimum fees students send in to secure their place at a university after receiving an acceptance letter — to forecast the size of their incoming class. Those enrollment numbers in turn are a key determinant of the annual revenue colleges earn and shape how they allocate resources. However, those are no longer reliable indicators: A study by Art & Science Group shows 12 percent of students who’ve paid up have since decided they no longer plan to pursue full-time, four-year college this fall. In effect, school finance departments this year are flying blind.

“Your deposit rate is really the only thing you have to go on,” says Jamie Ealy, a senior associate at Art & Science Group, who used to work in admissions offices at West Virginia University and Berea College in Kentucky.

In the long term, education experts say that reduced enrollments will likely increase the wealth gap between institutions with deep pockets that can weather this storm, and those that do not have the same financial flexibility. And the impact of deferrals could be felt next year too. If the number of deferred applicants who queue up to join college in 2021 is significantly larger than usual, that cuts into the number of seats available for fresh high school graduates next year.

Already, some students who took a leave of absence when classes moved online in the spring because of the pandemic say they’re happy they made that decision. “Before this, I never really considered it … and I think it has been very helpful,” says Preston Carlson, a student at Stanford University who’ll be returning in the fall.

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As COVID-19 forces colleges to switch to online instruction, many students are choosing instead to skip a year.

Colleges and universities are dealing with this crisis in different ways. Some are telling students that they cannot defer and will have to reapply if they don’t enroll soon. Others, including the University of North Carolina system, are developing worst-case scenario plans, where drops in enrollment could lead to employee furloughs, faculty cuts and suspended athletic programs. Tuition resets — a one-time reduction in tuition usually accompanied by cuts in financial aid — are also on the table for some schools.

The key for universities, Goebel says, is to think not just of the “here and now” but of what the future could bring. Educational institutions may need to rethink their pricing strategy amid a recession, particularly as families grapple with long-term income insecurity. While dealing with cuts, schools will need to pinpoint — and then double down on — what truly differentiates them from the competition while cutting the fluff. “In the future, you can see a lot of students going straight for the bare essentials. Almost like cord cutters for TV — you just take exactly what you need,” says Cyrus Beschloss, founder and CEO of College Reaction.

Most experts believe students will eventually want to return to the in-person classes, sporting events and social calendar that we associate with university life. “Our research shows that one thing students want is the typical on-campus college experience,” Ealy says. So it’s understandable that colleges are loathe to give up their physical model and fully shift online — also because it’s those in-person memories that often drive alumni to donate to campuses long after their college days.

None of that helps students currently trapped with the anxiety of deciding whether to defer or not. For some, such as Aquino, higher education might be losing its appeal altogether. “Personally, how I see it now, I would think that just taking up a job would be more effective in the long run,” she says. That dreamy Mediterranean breeze will have to remain a dream deferred.

Where India & Mexico Meet: Right at Your Mouth

As a young Indian girl, I used to always want to eat — much to my parents’ dismay — at Taco Bell. So in order to make me eat more home-cooked meals and cut down my fast-food intake, my father learned how to make his very own seven-layer burrito.

He would use the same seven ingredients but — here’s the catch — would wrap it all up in a roti, fried in buttery ghee that gave the burrito an extra crunchy bite. This was my first experience of a somewhat Indian-Mexican crossover dish.

And although my younger self always thought my dad’s Taco Bell-meets-India invention was innovative and unique to our household, turns out Indian-Mexican restaurants all over the country have been one-upping the Indo-Mex blends of the Kola family with new, adventurous tastes — and their menus feature more than just roti-wrapped burritos. 

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Little me and dad bonding over melting ice cream.

If you happen to step into one of these fusion restaurants, expect your taste buds to be greeted by tacos filled with street-side-style paneer, or Punjabi burritos served with basmati rice, seasoned chickpeas and curried pumpkin, all rolled together in a whole wheat tortilla.

You may even find quesadillas filled with cheese and chicken tikka (or paneer tikka for us vegetarians) sandwiched inside a potato-stuffed paratha. Some Indian-Mexican restaurants have even taken this fusion cuisine to a whole new level by making an in-house hybrid flour that creates a blend of Indian rotis and Mexican tortillas.

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Paratha quesadilla

Source Curry Up Now

Crossover cuisines and fusion restaurants have become the norm in today’s international food scene, which is far more globalized than ever before. Chefs from every background are mixing ingredients and culinary techniques from across the globe in an effort to find the next big thing. However, the Indian-Mexican cuisine sets itself apart as something uniquely different.

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Aloo gobi tacos

Source Curry Up Now

In the early 20th century, men from the Indian state of Punjab came to the United States in search of work, many of whom eventually settled in California. At one point, almost 2,000 Punjabi men lived in California, writes anthropologist Karen Leonard in Making Ethnic Choices: California’s Punjabi Mexican Americans.

Yet because of California’s miscegenation laws, which didn’t allow these Indian workers to marry outside their race, along with the Immigration Act of 1917 that restricted these men from bringing Indian wives into the country, many Punjabi men ended up marrying Mexican women. The confluence of these various laws and policies created not only a distinct bi-ethnic community of Punjabi-Mexicans, but also a rich micro-cuisine in the unsuspecting town of Yuba City, California.

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Punjabi-Mexican Family

Source Karen Leonard, Stanford University Libraries

Although not all Indian-Mexican restaurant owners today may attribute their food to this history, it’s a cuisine whose cultural DNA nonetheless represents an organic community of Indians and Mexicans brought together by a delicate alignment of immigration policies, miscegenation laws, migratory patterns and cultural similarities. 

Are you dying to try it, but the pandemic is getting in your way? Here you go!

Indian-Mexican Recipes

Mexican Chaat

By Sanjeev Kapoor Khazana
This Mexican chaat is an easy first step to making a favorite Indian street-side snack with a Mexican flare.

  • 1 cup nacho chips, broken into large pieces (plus more for serving) 
  • 1 medium potato, boiled, peeled and cut into small pieces
  • ¼ cup boiled corn kernels
  • 1 medium onion, finely chopped
  • 1 small tomato, chopped
  • 1 jalapeno, finely chopped
  • 1 tablespoon green chutney (plus more for garnish)
  • 1 tablespoon tamarind chutney (plus more for garnish)
  • 1 teaspoon chaat masala
  • Salt to taste
  • 1 tablespoon chopped fresh coriander leaves (plus more for garnish)
  • 2-3 tablespoons yogurt
  1. Combine broken nacho chips, potato, corn kernels, onion, tomato, jalapeno, green chutney, tamarind chutney, chaat masala, salt and chopped coriander in a bowl and mix well.
  2. Add yogurt and mix well.
  3. Serve garnished with a few nacho chips, green chutney, tamarind chutney and chopped coriander.

Desi Spiced Tequila Twist

Inspired by Tarla Dala
Tequila with an Indian twist is a great way to spice up your weekend and is sure to give a kick to your taste buds.

  • 1.5 ounces tequila (blanco or reposado)
  • 4 ounces club soda
  • 2 teaspoons cardamom powder
  • ½ tablespoon chopped coriander 
  • ½ teaspoon rose water
  • 4 tablespoons kala khatta syrup (plum sherbet)
  • 1 teaspoon chaat masala
  • Few drops lime juice
  • 1 pinch of salt
  • Crushed ice
  1. If desired, rim a glass with salt by wetting with a lime wedge and rolling in salt. 
  2. Crush or grind chopped coriander 
  3. Add to a bowl with cardamom powder, rose water, kala khatta syrup, chaat masala, lime juice and salt.
  4. Fill the glass with ice. Add tequila and all other ingredients. Top it off with club soda.
  5. Garnish lightly with sprinkling of chopped coriander leaves.

Saffron and Cardamom Churros 

By Sandya Kola

For the syrup:

  • 1 cup sugar
  • ¾ cup water
  • 1 generous pinch of saffron 
  • ¾ teaspoon cardamom powder 

For the churros:

  • ½ cup water
  • ½ cup buttermilk
  • ½ cup butter
  • 1 pinch salt
  • 1 tablespoon sugar
  • 1¼ cups flour
  • 3 large eggs
  • Ghee or vegetable oil as needed (for frying)
  • Pistachios for garnish (optional)
  • Star tip with at least ½-inch-wide opening
  • Wax paper

Make the syrup:

  1. Add sugar and water to a pot and bring to a boil.
  2. Cook over medium heat until mixture reaches one string consistency. (To test for one string consistency, put a small portion of the syrup in a spoon. Cool slightly. Take it between your thumb and forefinger, gently rubbing your fingers together and then pulling them apart. If you should see a single, unbroken string of syrup, it’s ready.)
  3. Add cardamom and saffron. Stir and remove from heat. Set aside to cool.

More detailed instructions for syrup

Make the churros:

  1. Add water, buttermilk, butter, salt and sugar to a pot. Bring the mixture to a boil.
  2. Add flour and stir, continuing until the mixture clumps together to form a ball. Make sure to turn the dough over in the pot for even heating.
  3. Add eggs, one at a time, mixing well after each. The mixture should begin to look shiny and slightly stiff.
  4. Place dough in a pastry bag fitted with a tip.
  5. Place a sheet of wax paper on a cookie sheet. Pipe the dough to your desired length onto the cookie sheet. Place in the freezer while you heat up the ghee or oil.
  6. Add ghee to pot and allow it to melt. It should fill one to two inches of the pot. When the churros feel firm, drop them into the melted ghee using a spatula.
  7. Work in batches. Fry the churros for about two minutes or until they’re golden brown. Remove them using tongs, let the oil drain on paper towels, and add churros to the pot of syrup.
  8. Let them soak evenly in the syrup for about one minute. Remove and place to cool on wax paper-lined cookie sheet.  
  9. For a true desi touch, option to garnish with chopped pistachios.  

More detailed instructions for churros

Can’t find some of these Indian ingredients in your local grocery store? Find the closest Indian store near you.