African Americans & Communism in the Great Depression



In Journal 19, March-December 1941, pages 73-81, Margaret Walker comments that one thing she has learned in returning to the South from Chicago is that the majority of African Americans she has encountered are anti-communist. In this section, she discusses the reasons for this anti-communist feeling among African Americans.

Students will analyze pages from Margaret Walker’s Journal 19 in order to research and discuss African-American views on communism during the Great Depression.


Notebooks or folders


Introduce students to the economic systems of capitalism and communism and specifically to help students:

Know what laissez-faire capitalism and communism are;

Understand the differences between communism and laissez-faire capitalism;

Understand that Margaret Walker’s views on communism were influenced by her culture, travels, and life experiences.



Teacher should allow students the opportunity to read aloud Journal 19, pages 73-81, and develop definitions of communism and capitalism. The class will discuss the similarities and differences between capitalism and communism and write similarities and differences under the appropriate labels. Discuss Margaret Walker’s explanation of the differences between capitalism and communism found in Journal 19.

Give each student a map of the world, and discuss the international spread of Communism in the years immediately following World War II until the 1960s. Students should mark each communist country with a symbol like a star or circle.

Have students individually construct questions about capitalism and communism and then discuss in pairs. Pairs will share their answers with the whole class. Ask students to write a response about a journal passage that bothers them.



Have students read the brief PBS American Masters biography about Paul Robeson. Contrast his views on communism with Margaret Walker’s. Place students in groups and instruct them to write and act out a short story using Paul Robeson and Margaret Walker’s views on communism. For more structure, the teacher can provide the setting and the problems facing African Americans during the Great Depression. The Library of Congress has a lot of good information.

After discussing Walker’s and Robeson’s views on communism, have groups write a brief position paper that reflects their views on communism. Teachers can also have groups create a poster to illustrate their views compared to Walker’s and Robeson’s.



The teacher should decide how to create incentives and opportunities for the students to write. For the most part, grading should be informally assessed based on participation.

Although teachers may wish to develop a grading rubric for this lesson, they should be wary of giving poor grades that might deter students from writing on their own.