Letters and Politics

‘The Most Dangerous Communist in the United States’; Baptists in America

With Gary Murrell, Professor of History at Grays Harbor College and author of the book “The Most Dangerous Communist in the United States:” A Biography of Herbert Aptheker.

And Thomas Kidd, Professor of History at Baylor University and author of several books, including Baptists in America: A History, which he co-authored with Barry Hankins. 

About The Most Dangerous Communist in the United States

When J. Edgar Hoover declared Herbert Aptheker “the most dangerous Communist in the United States,” the notorious FBI director misconstrued his true significance. In this first book-length biography of Aptheker (1915–2003), Gary Murrell provides a balanced yet unflinching assessment of the controversial figure who was at once a leading historian of African America, radical political activist, literary executor of W. E. B. Du Bois, and lifelong member of the American Communist Party. Although blacklisted at U.S. universities, Aptheker published dozens of books, including the groundbreaking American Negro Slave Revolts (1943) and the monumental seven-volume Documentary History of the Negro People (1951–1994). He also edited four volumes of the correspondence and unpublished writings of Du Bois, an achievement that Eric Foner, writing in the New York Times Book Review, called “a milestone in the coming of age of Afro-American history.”

As Murrell shows, Aptheker the historian was inseparable from Aptheker the leading Communist Party intellectual, polemicist, and agitator. During the 1960s, his ability to rouse and inspire both black and white student radicals made him one of the few Old Leftists accepted by the New Left. Aptheker had joined the CPUSA during its heyday in the 1930s, convinced that only through the party’s leadership could fascism be defeated and true liberation be achieved: he ended his affiliation five decades later in 1991 after the collapse of socialism in the Soviet Union and Eastern Europe.

In an afterword, Bettina Aptheker adds to Murrell’s narrative by illuminating her mother Fay’s vital contributions to her father’s work and by affirming the particularly devastating challenges of life in a family dedicated to radical political and social change.

About Baptists in America

The Puritans called Baptists “the troublers of churches in all places” and hounded them out of Massachusetts Bay Colony. Four hundred years later, Baptists are the second-largest religious group in America, and their influence matches their numbers. They have built strong institutions, from megachurches to publishing houses to charities to mission organizations, and have firmly established themselves in the mainstream of American culture. Yet the historical legacy of outsider status lingers, and the inherently fractured nature of their faith makes Baptists ever wary of threats from within as well as without.

In Baptists in America, Thomas S. Kidd and Barry Hankins explore the long-running tensions between church, state, and culture that Baptists have shaped and navigated. Despite the moment of unity that their early persecution provided, their history has been marked by internal battles and schisms that were microcosms of national events, from the conflict over slavery that divided North from South to the conservative revolution of the 1970s and 80s. Baptists have made an indelible impact on American religious and cultural history, from their early insistence that America should have no established church to their place in the modern-day culture wars, where they frequently advocate greater religious involvement in politics. Yet the more mainstream they have become, the more they have been pressured to conform to the mainstream, a paradox that defines–and is essential to understanding–the Baptist experience in America.

Kidd and Hankins, both practicing Baptists, weave the threads of Baptist history alongside those of American history. Baptists in America is a remarkable story of how one religious denomination was transformed from persecuted minority into a leading actor on the national stage, with profound implications for American society and culture.

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