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A Life in Red: A Story of Forbidden Love, the Great Depression, and the Communist Fight For a Black Nation in the Deep South

David Beasley

John F. Blair, Publisher
$26.95 hardcover
5 x 7.5  
224 pages 

A Life in Red reveals the true story of star-crossed lovers Herbert Newton, a black communist seeking the end of an oppressive America, and Jane Newton, the white daughter of a wealthy American Legion commander, and their part in the Depression-Era, communist fight for a black sovereign nation.

Readers will be introduced to a largely ignored piece of civil rights history that unfolded a quarter century before the mass protests that began in the 1950s. The Newtons’ love story underscores the fraught times of a segregated and flailing country, while David Beasley’s account of the movement’s history creates a full and layered backdrop. Including the attempt to unionize Southern workers, the trial of the Atlanta Six, and other major turning points, the book explores communists’ endeavor to utilize the black community’s anger and oppression to fuel a deflated movement on American soil.

Readers will experience a detailed picture of the friendship between the Newtons and Richard Wright, who wrote Native Son while living with the couple and struggling to find an identity outside of the communist party in New York City. In addition, A Life in Red covers the sanity trials Jane Newton underwent simply for being white, promoting communism, and marrying a black man; delves into The Scottsboro Trial as a crucial foundation for the communist movement’s relationship with the African American community; and describes the intimate lives of both black and white communist members of the era trained in the United States and Russia.



“A thrilling tale of an interracial marriage between two Communists, A Life in Red is a love story and a political saga. Crisply written, it reads like a novel, and transports the reader into a lost world when deeply committed people worked for racial justice in the decades before the civil-rights movement of the 1950s.”

—Glenda Elizabeth Gilmore, Peter V. and C. Vann Woodward Professor of History, Yale University

“In a clear journalistic account, David Beasley tells a neglected love story so as to reveal provocative, lost subtexts in American history. The deeper implications of this book are transcendent. A Life in Red is a valuable, original resource."
—R. Baxter Miller, author of On the Ruins of Modernity: New Chicago Renaissance from Wright to Fair
“David Beasley’s story of the black political figure Herbert Newton illuminates an obscure chapter in the struggle for racial justice in the United States. Newton courted the death penalty in 1930s Georgia on two counts: he married the daughter of a white American Legion commander, and he tried to win Southern blacks over to Communism. Beasley tells this compelling story with great sensitivity.”
—Woodford McClellan, professor emeritus, University of Virginia

“David Beasley has written a wonderfully engaging account of a little-known chapter of American history. The personalities come to life here, in all their glory and with all their frailties. More than the story of people and their relationships, however, A Life in Red manages to put the events that followed—the McCarthy era, the civil-rights movement—in their historical context. It is not difficult to see that, even today, we live in the shadows of Herbert and Jane Newton.”
—Peter Lindsay, associate professor of political science and philosophy, Georgia State University