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Patterson, Louise Thompson

Louise Thompson Patterson

Louise Thompson Patterson (1901-1999) was a significant figure in both the Harlem Renaissance of the 1920s and the rejection of many of its superficial features during the Great Depression of the 1930s.  After supporting a student strike at the conservative Hampton Institute, Patterson abandoned college teaching and moved to Harlem in 1928 with the help of an Urban League scholarship.  There she met and briefly married the novelist Wallace Thurman and served as an editorial secretary for Langston Hughes and Zora Neale Hurston as they coauthored Mule Bone, their divisive, ill-fated folk drama.  In the 1930s, Patterson came into her own as a Communist activist and journalist, helping to usher Harlem’s literary intelligentsia further to the left.  The Vanguard, a salon she co-hosted, smoothly transitioned into the Harlem branch of the Friends of the Soviet Union.  Patterson recruited Hughes to help organize the visit of several dozen African American performers and intellectuals to the Soviet Union in 1932—a pivotal event in David Levering Lewis’s When Harlem Was in Vogue (1981)and subsequent histories of the New Negro movement.  Thanks in part to her marriage to William L. Patterson, a headlining lawyer in the U.S. Communist Party, the FBI took Patterson’s activities with the utmost seriousness, building a 900-page file on her from 1941 to 1974.  She was placed on the Bureau’s Security Index, interrogated by FBI agents, and prevented from leaving the U.S. to visit China in 1960. 

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Patterson, Louise Thompson

FBI documents studying Louise Thompson Patterson.




Material is in the public domain.

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