Monday, February 19, 2007

Pitching Vito

(This is a query letter the highway scribe is trying out on editors in the African-American media. It makes a good post anyway, bringing to light a personal hero and someone highwayscribery readers might like to know about.)

“Coming from the neighborhood [East Harlem], there was also a Communist person who was a big hero in our house, Vito Marcantonio. He was a Communist, and he came from that part of Harlem, Italian Harlem. Vito Marcantonio was a very liberal person. See, these lines are blurred, because to be in favor of treating a black person as an equal, some people would say, ‘Oh well, he’s a Communist,’ automatically. This is the thinking that prevailed, as you know, in many parts of the country. Vito Marcantonio was great, and he was from where we went to school, that area. So I was a politically active person. I was always interested in how to make the society a better place. I still am, because it’s not a perfect place.”

Saxophonist, Sonny Rollins


I’m a freelance writer looking to sell an article raising African-American awareness about a mostly forgotten Italian-American, Rep. Vito Marcantonio, in conjunction with Black History Month.

“Marc,” was the congressman from East Harlem, New York from 1935 to 1937 and then from 1939 to 1950. Dubbed “the bread of the people,” he was way out in front on issues that would take years in coming to fruition:

- Long before the civil rights movement, Marcantonio annually introduced civil rights legislation into Congress. He sponsored a bill to make poll taxes illegal and another to make lynching a federal crime.

- He fought, often a lone voice, to desegregate Washington D.C. and introduced a resolution in 1945 directing the Secretary of Commerce to investigate the employment practices of major league baseball clubs to determine if they discriminated against African-Americans, thus paving the way for Jackie Robinsons’ breaking of the sports color barrier.

- As a lawyer for civil liberties he represented W.E.B DuBois and other members of the Peace Information Center charged with failing to register under the Foreign Agents Registration Act. Dubois dedicated chapters 12 and 13 of his book “Battle for Peace,” to the trial.

- He encouraged Frank Sinatra to speak to students at Benjamin Franklin High School in 1944 to foster racial harmony after an incident between Italian-American and African-American students.

He said in debate on the House floor on Feb. 21, 1950:

“The gentlemen [Mr. Keefe] infers that it is communism to insist, as I have been insisting, that there must be an end to Jim Crow; that you can never solve this problem by degrees, by gradualism. The Negro people have waited too long and have suffered too much under Jim Crow to wait for the success of gradualistic solutions. He implies that I am intolerant. I am intolerant. I am intolerant of any who would tolerate conditions of segregation and Jim Crow. I am intolerant of inequality. I am intolerant of those Jim Crow conditions, and I shall continue to do all that I can in my limited capacity to destroy them.”

Best known as a representative of the American Labor Party, Marcantonio won primaries in the Republican and Democratic parties as well.

Marc cast the lone vote in dissent against the Korean War and was, undoubtedly, a very cool guy who worked himself to death for the disenfranchised of this country, expiring of a heart attack on an East Harlem street at the age of 52.

The piece I propose would draw from commentary by a few historians, a contemporary writer or two, and DuBois’ book, but mostly from Marcantonio’s own words found in a collection of, “Debates, Speeches, and Writings, 1935-1950.” I’d like to discuss his importance to the African-American story, and draw some parallels on stands he took at the time on issues that remain relevant today.

It can be ready in very short order.

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