Saturday, May 29, 2010

Charlotte "Anita" Whitney (1867-1955) - U.S. Communist Party Leader

Plot 15 (Unmarked)
There is a marker for her parents, George and Mary Whitney

Charlotte “Anita” Whitney was a social worker and descendant of prominent Americans who became a leader of the Communist Party in the United States. Whitney’s family could be traced back to the Mayflower and her father, George E. Whitney, served as Oakland’s Republican State Senator from 1883-1886. Her uncle, Stephen J. Field, was a California Supreme Court Justice in the late 1850’s and was appointed to the United States Supreme Court by President Abraham Lincoln. Field also later ran unsuccessfully for President.

In the early 1900’s, Whitney helped in the rehabilitation of victims of the San Francisco earthquake and became widely known as a philanthropist.

Whitney was a cultured graduate of Wellesley College who turned to socialism in 1914. After World War I, she helped align the Socialists with the communist labor party. She was jailed in 1919 for criminal syndicalism on grounds that she advocated the overthrow of the U.S. government. An Alameda County Superior Court jury convicted her and she was sentenced to 1-14 years in prison. She managed to stay out of prison during seven years of appeals, until finally the U.S. Supreme Court upheld her conviction. However, just before she was scheduled to go to prison she was pardoned by Governor C.C. Young.

After her pardon, she continued to be an advocate for communism and was frequently jailed on charges of disturbing the peace and was even arrested for picketing the German Consulate in 1937. She devoted the rest of her life fighting for women’s suffrage, civil rights for blacks, minimum wage laws, the rights of union workers and the relief of the poor.

She became the chairwoman of the California Communist Party and ran for the United States Senate in 1927, State Treasurer in 1934 and for State Controller in the 1940’s. Anita Whitney remained extremely popular with the radical left and she garnered 99,000 votes in her 1950 U.S. Senate race despite the anti-communist crusades of future politico Ronald Reagan and from Wisconsin Senator Joseph McCarthy.

Whitney lived in Oakland until 1932 before moving to San Francisco.

[Excerpted from the Feb. 5, 1995 obituary in the Oakland Tribune; additional information from Silvia Lange]

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