Fascists without Labels: Jim Crow, Civil Rights, and the Making of a Black Antifascist Tradition, 1933-1977

Date of Award

Spring 2022

Document Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)



First Advisor

Feimster, Crystal


This study unearths the transnational Black antifascist tradition that became a galvanizing force for postwar civil rights in the United States. It opens with interwar Black radical formulations of fascism as continuous with colonialism and racial slavery, then asks what became of Black antifascists, their ideas, and their allies following Allied victory. After 1945, many turned their sights fully to the United States as the postwar inheritor of “a heritage of fascists without labels.” I track antifascist efforts to define and confront this heritage across the civil rights movement and into the age of Black Power. I argue that antifascism continued to inform the civil rights movement despite the stultifying forces of segregationist opposition, Cold War anticommunism, liberal gradualism, and the widespread amnesia clouding national memory of the recent fascist past. The postwar Black antifascist tradition lived on in diffuse coalitions: Black GIs who liberated Nazi concentration camps; Black journalists reporting on the Nuremberg trials; Jewish and Italian antifascists who infiltrated neo-Nazi outfits in the Jim Crow South; Freedom Riders defying stars and bars stitched to swastikas; Black radical exiles in East Germany; and political prisoners theorizing the walls and trenches so central to the U.S. racial order. For these figures, fascism functioned as a framework for characterizing the experience of racialized rightlessness within a liberal democracy. Antifascism, in turn, provided an avenue for moral outrage, political opportunism, grassroots solidarity-building, and acts of resistance. Yet as a coherent political tradition, it was consistently rooted in the conviction that a uniquely American form of fascism was possible, born from the legacies of racial slavery and revitalized by the narrow terms of Allied victory and the obduracy of racial capitalism.

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