Charles White’s left-leaning impulses and his art work that reflected these impulses were chronicled in Mary Helen Washington’s The Other Blacklist: The African American Literary and Cultural Left of the 1950s [Columbia University Press, 2014]. Artists on the Left: American Artists and the Communist Movement, 1926-1956, by Andrew Hemingway [Yale University Press, 2002] also documents the left-leaning aspects of White’s practice. Hemingway was, at the time of the book’s writing, reader in history of art, University College London.
The book describes itself as “…the first to examine in abundant detail the relation between visual artists and the American Communist movement during the twentieth century.” And its publicity continues, “ Andrew Hemingway charts the rise and decline of the Communist Party’s influence on art in the United States from the Party’s dramatic rise in prestige during the Great Depression to its effective demise in the 1950s. Offering a full account of how left-wing artists responded to the Party’s various policy shifts over these years, Hemingway shows that the Communist Party exerted a powerful force in American culture, even after the Nazi-Soviet Pact of 1939.
The author scrutinizes the works of an array of leftist artists, many of great interest but largely forgotten today. He demonstrates that American art produced within the Communist Party’s orbit was far more diverse and had a much more complex relationship with modernism than has been previously understood. Refusing to march in lockstep to Party requirements, artists and critics in and around the Party accepted no single aesthetic line and engaged in heated debates. Hemingway offers radical new interpretations of some familiar works, reassesses the role of the John Reed Clubs and the work of artists in the federal art programs, and revises accepted thinking about art in the United States during the Cold War. In short, he offers a distinguished and original political history that recovers the rich artistic and intellectual legacy of the American left.”
Artists on the Left contained extensive references to White’s practice and included reproductions of several works by White, including one reproduction from an issue of the US Communist magazine, Masses & Mainstream, White’s works reproduced in this book were, Five Great American Negroes, 1939-40, 5’ x 12’ 11”, Howard University Gallery of Art, Washington, D.C.; Contribution of the Negro to Democracy in America, 1943, egg tempera (fresco secca), 11’ 9” x 17’ 3”; This, My Brother, 1942, oil on canvas, 24 x 36”, Art Institute of Chicago; The Ingram Case, (from Masses & Mainstream), February 1950; Harvest Talk, 1953, charcoal, pencil and graphite, with stumping and erasing on ivory wood-pulp laminate body, 26 x 39” Art Institute of Chicago.
Hemingway’s rich and detailed references to White included (on pages 172-173):
As a schoolboy White was outraged by the omission of African Americans from history teaching and mainstream historical writing, something he became aware of through his reading in the public libraries and, particularly, his early discovery of Alain Locke’s seminal anthology The New Negro. As for so many radical African American artists and intellectuals of his generation, he saw one of the fundamental political tasks as to insert the story of African American oppression and struggles into the American historical narrative. Black Americans needed to be shown to themselves as active players in the nation’s history, they needed their own heroes and heroines. As one of the twenty-one black artists taken on by the FAP [Federal Art Project] in Chicago, [The Federal Art Project, which operated between 1935–1943, was the best known of several New Deal programs that provided employment for artists during the Great Depression] White found an appropriate space to pursue this strategy in the FAP’s South Side Community Art Center, for the library of which he painted the mural Five Great American Negroes. Although the mural seems never to have been installed at the Art Center, it was shown at the Artists’ and Models Ball at Chicago’s Savoy Ballroom in October 1939, and at the Exhibition of the Art of the American Negro held at the Library of Congress from December 1940 to January 1941, to commemorate the seventy-fifth anniversary of the Thirteenth Amendment. For this latter venue it was symptomatically retitled Five Great Americans.