"Organizing is a fine art. I have worked at it all of my adult life."
Before picking up this book, I had never heard of Louise Thompson Patterson. Which is a shame, because she was an incredibly fascinating woman who influenced the movers and shakers of the Harlem Renaissance, the American Communist party, and the Civil Rights movement. Louise's story is an unlikely and amazing one, from her eclectic, peripatetic childhood, her tempestuous first marriage, to her struggles with her ability to "pass," her deep friendship with Langston Hughes and her bitter rivalry with Zora Neale Hurston, her leadership that brought together a collaboration with a Jewish organisation to fight for universal rights, her travels behind the Iron Curtain, and her lifelong loyalty to the Communist Party. The book is incredibly thorough and each page, often festooned with casual mentions of dozens of names, reads a bit like a Who's Who of the Harlem Renaissance-- which, unfortunately, would be more entertaining if I actually knew who was who.
The book deftly describes Patterson's life, not only her virtues, but also uncompromisingly explores her flaws. Yet despite learning so much about her life, I am not sure I ever really understood what motivated her, and I absolutely failed to grasp her obstinate faith in the Soviet Union, even to the point of repeatedly switching sides as the Communist policy on the Nazis changed again and again. Perhaps most impressive of all was her ability to survive on a career in political organizing. Patterson was a fascinating complex woman who influenced generation upon generation of civil rights organizers. If you're curious about her life-- and are more well-versed in the history of the time than I am-- this book is well worth a read.
~~I received an advanced reader copy of this book through Netgalley from the publisher, Duke University Press, in exchange for my honest review.~~
Cross-posted on Goodreads.