Born as Lloyd Dight in St. Paul, Minnesota, Lloyd L. Brown’s (1913-2003) adopted surname reflected his admiration for John Brown, the militant abolitionist, and his need for cover when working as a Communist labor organizer. Arrested for conspiracy during a union drive in Pennsylvania, Brown was imprisoned in the Allegheny County Jail for seven months in 1941, a brutal experience which nonetheless led to his greatest literary success, the novel Iron City (1951). Alternately described as a derivative radical restatement of Richard Wright’s Native Son (1940) and as the original African American prison novel, Iron City employs quasi-documentary materials to expose the racism of what is now called the “prison-industrial complex”—a concept that Brown anticipates in his title, which refers at once to the iron-making industrial system of Pittsburgh and to the unyielding society of the penitentiary. Iron City’s unambiguous heroes are a trio of African American Communists, and Brown would not renounce the Communist Party even during the Cold War. For several years the managing editor of New Masses, the U.S. Party’s major cultural journal, he also served as an associate editor of its successor publication, Masses and Mainstream. In the 1950s, Brown began a second literary career as Paul Robeson’s coauthor, collaborating on columns and articles and helping the singer-activist write his manifesto/autobiography, Here I Stand (1958). The FBI was little friendlier to Brown than to Robeson, filling a file on him from 1940 to 1970. When Brown celebrated the return of Robeson’s passport with a celebratory toast—“That Negro got away, he got away”—an FBI informer was there to hear.
FBI documents studying Lloyd Brown.
Material is in the public domain.
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