In Battle for Peace: The Story of my 83rd Birthday, by W. E. B. Du Bois, with comment by Shirley Graham

Note: This review is part of an ongoing series meant to highlight the endeavors of Niebyl Proctor Marxist Library’s Cataloging Committee. The committee is working hard to create a publicly accessible catalog of the library’s collection approximately 12,000 texts from a variety of intellectual disciplines. We aim to center Black authors and subjects that are featured in this collection. Our growing catalog can be browsed directly, or by selecting the ‘Library Search’ link in the site navigation above. Thank you for your continued support. We are currently accepting donations through PayPal.

Toward the end of his life and distinguished career, William Edward Burghardt (W. E. B.) Du Bois became embroiled in a criminal indictment of his activities with the Peace Information Center (PIC), an organization whose aims were to distribute information regarding international peace and disarmament efforts. In battle for peace: The story of my 83rd birthday is a frank account of Du Bois and his associates’ efforts to clear his name and fight the war hysteria of post-World War II America. While the greater part of the book recounts the trial, peripheral events, and speeches that Du Bois engaged in to raise funds for the legal fees, the last chapter of the book reveals the supportive themes and social commentary that inform the proceedings. If nothing else, In battle for peace is disarmingly prescient in its final chapter, titled “Interpretations” (p. 160) — many issues of our day are in their nascent stage in Cold War America. In the shadow of McCarthyism, Du Bois dissects American corporate plutocracy and the tendrils of global wealth inequality in his recollection of his trial, with occasional comment by his wife at this time, Shirley Graham.

Du Bois uses the first few chapters to highlight his interest in Pan-Africanism, his habit of international travel and attendance at Peace Congresses, and his ambivalence toward birthday celebrations. He posits as peculiarly American the view of aged individuals as useless and abnormal. The strange fissure between American values and international movements plays a large role throughout this recollection, especially in later chapters. 

The founding and management of the Peace Information Center, as detailed in chapter 5, was the reason for the indictment of W. E. B. Du Bois and his colleagues. The Center attempted to breach the American media blackout of international peace movements by distributing “Peacegrams” and reprinting the Stockholm Appeal, a disarmament initiative by the World Peace Council and originally signed by, among many other prominent cultural figures, Du Bois. For this, the Department of Justice demanded that the PIC register as “agents of a foreign principal” (p. 43) under the Foreign Agents Registration Act. When the parties of the PIC refused to do so, Du Bois and other members were indicted.

A recount of the speaking tour (meant to raise funds for the legal defense) and indictment trial commences. Particularly sobering are Du Bois’s comments on the nature of justice in America: “Justice is not free in the United States” (p. 108). Funds in the tens of thousands were required to structure a sound defense, and Du Bois reflects on the inability of many Black people confined in the justice system to pay necessary court fees. The peripheral accommodation and transportation costs were also prohibitive in this case, because the Du Bois’s legal team consisted of both Black and white members. 

After the trial is over and the Peace Information Center members were rightfully acquitted, Du Bois reflects on the significance of an unfair and destructive indictment by the American government on American citizens spreading the word of peace in a warmongering state. Du Bois condemns the demand by the U.S. government for the complete unity of political beliefs and values, especially in light of the fact that most political motives in the U.S. are tied to the interests of corporate hegemony and resultant global colonialism. He decries the misuse and distribution of wealth by American capitalists to the harm of the national (and global) public. Today, we are witnessing how the enormously unequal distribution of wealth and power determines how one’s community is affected by a global virus. “American exceptionalism” means nothing to historically underfunded and overlooked Black and brown communities, wherein members are disproportionately becoming infected with COVID-19 at a higher rate. 

Inequality has long been an issue, globally and in the U.S. In battle for peace reminds us that the struggle to counter injustice and advocate for peace is a perpetual act.

Ella Baker: Freedom Bound, by Joanne Grant

Note: This review is part of an ongoing series meant to highlight the endeavors of Niebyl Proctor Marxist Library’s Cataloging Committee. The committee is working hard to create a publicly accessible catalog of the library’s collection approximately 12,000 texts from a variety of intellectual disciplines. We aim to center Black authors and subjects that are featured in this collection. Our growing catalog can be browsed directly, or by selecting the ‘Library Search’ link in the site navigation above. Thank you for your continued support. We are currently accepting donations through PayPal.

Stories of the 1960s Civil Rights Movement are especially critical during these times of social upheaval. There are lessons we can learn from the structural and interpersonal struggles within civil rights organizations, and we can apply them today to the struggle against wanton police violence in Black communities and socioeconomic barriers to Black autonomy. The story of Black lives is the story of increased democratic decision-making in U.S. civic society — something we all benefit from. Historical examples of success in the struggle for racial equality provide blueprints for contemporary movements such as Black Lives Matter and, locally, Anti Police-Terror Project in a country that devalues human life for the sake of profit.

The mid-century fight for civil rights and liberties is synonymous with the life story of Ella Baker, born in Norfolk, VA in 1903, as detailed in this biography (Ella Baker: Freedom Bound) by Joanne Grant, her younger contemporary and fellow activist for civil rights. Baker, shaped by the Black church and moral lessons of her mother and grandfather, provided the framework and structural power by which prominent civil rights leaders could push for change from federal and local governments. Skeptical of media attention and highly pragmatic to the end, Baker was wary of cults of personality in justice circles and valued highly the role of local, mass movements in civil rights organizations. This biography is an exhaustive account of her development as a professional organizer and human relations expert, into an activist who treated everyone with equanimity and created leaders out of youth movements, primarily with the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee (SNCC) as a founding executive and mentor.

Baker was primarily based in New York City (specifically the Harlem neighborhood), but was intimately familiar with Southern struggles, and devoted about two decades of her life to voter registration campaigns, educational workshops, civil rights conferences, and leadership training in the South, all while White Citizens’ Councils and branches of the Ku Klux Klan perpetrated violence against Black people, businesses, and churches. Prior to Baker’s involvement in the Southern civil rights struggle, she had joined the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP) as director of branches, honing her organizational skills and traveling around the country, sometimes under dangerous travel conditions, enabling local activists to become racial justice leaders. Baker preferred organizing with SNCC because she identified the mass youth movement as the one that would enact national change at the local level, rather than be buried under interpersonal conflict and politics within the NAACP and the Southern Christian Leadership Conference (SCLC), of which she was also a founding member following the Montgomery Bus Boycott. Though SNCC eventually disintegrated due to several factors, namely the increasing militancy of students, FBI manipulation, and political infighting, the organization successfully registered thousands of new Black voters, increased adult literacy in the South, and created a movement that pressured the federal government to enact new protections and rights for Black Americans. Baker organized directly with activists such as Bayard Rustin, Martin Luther King, Jr., Charles McDew, and Angela Davis.

Joanne Grant was a journalist during the Civil Rights Movement, and looked up to Baker as a mentor. Grant highlights the life of Baker as one ferociously dedicated to the struggle of human rights, who found ultimate fulfillment in her work. Since Baker was busy throughout her life organizing and fundraising for civil rights groups, hers is a story that is inseparably entwined with that of the struggle of the Black community as a whole. Grant provides a well-researched account of a historical figure without much psychological extrapolation of Baker’s character, beyond the matters of her direct action within the racial justice struggle.

Without the pragmatism and organizational skills of Ella Baker, the momentum of the nonviolent student movement may not have been harnessed to influence radical changes in American society and government. We need radical action coupled with tight horizontal organization, such as that implemented by Ella Baker, to achieve true democratic ideals.

List of related resources:

Welcome to our Black History Celebration

Mama C’s Tiny concert honoring a living legend – Dr Tolbert Small – The People’s Doctor! 50 years of dedicated service to the communities of the Bay!

“The legendary physician, poet, social activist and humanist” — these words have been used to describe Tolbert Small. He has worked as the leading physician for the Oakland-based Black Panther Party, setting up their national sickle cell anemia foundation and the George Jackson free clinic. Pro Bono, he cared for all the rank and file party members, including all of the leadership. Huey Newton, Bobby Seale, Angela Davis, Elaine Brown, George Jackson, and David Hilliard were all his close friends, comrades, and patients. He was known as “the people’s doctor” and he is now also known as the doctor’s doctor.

Come join us in the celebration: February 23rd (last Sunday of the month)

Place: The Niebyl Proctor Marxist Library/Community Center

6501 Telegraph Ave Oakland

Time: 3-5:30 pm

Tickets: 510-517-0150, $20/adult, $10/children

“100,000 Poets for Change” celebrated in Oakland

October 10, 2017 9:38 AM CDT BY MARILYN BECHTEL

OAKLAND, Calif.—For the seventh year in a row, poets, artists, musicians, writers, and playwrights from around the globe have joined together in 100,000 Poets for Change – events of many types, all celebrating artists who are working for a sustainable and peaceful world. Many, but not all, take place on the last weekend in September, and many are shared around the world via livestreaming and video.

One of several such events in the San Francisco Bay area took place on Sept. 29, at the Niebyl-Proctor Marxist Library. Highlighting the program were area poets, singers, instrumentalists, and artists who shared their visions of a better world with community members.

Opening the program, Cassandra López, affectionately known in the community as Mama Cassie, spoke of the very difficult times people are experiencing throughout the U.S. and around the world with a president “guided by hatred for the community and for the planet.”

Despite the extra burden this is imposing on communities and families, López declared, “We will never give up. We will be seen, heard, and respected, and we will do it in unity – when things change in this country, the world changes. So we have a big responsibility. But tonight we are going to have a celebration of love, in unity, and in concern and freedom.”

Poet Roxanne Jones followed with a heartfelt tribute to the library as “Mama Cassie and Papa Cassie’s village of international history, culture, and library of love,” and invited all present to share in an abundant potluck feast put together by many community members.

“Papa Cassie” – library board president and Cassandra López’ husband, Juan Carlos López – continued the thought: “There’s food and sustenance for life in the struggle for jobs, against poverty and for the environment. But more than food for the belly, there’s sustenance for the mind and food for the soul… The kind of America we want to bring back is the kind of America pioneered by Dr. Martin Luther King, who is to my mind, the greatest leader we have had in this country.”

Painting by Eldica Miller. | Marilyn Bechtel / PW

Contributing to the celebration and its rededication to positive change were musicians including well-known area Gospel singer Leonard Smyer, a women’s choir of University of California students brought together by Akberet Hagos, and renowned Caribbean percussionist Val Serrant.

Poet Das Saswati protested the soaring inequality experienced by people today, and the ravishing of the earth itself, while Lupe Copendah’s ode to Prince was a tribute to the late artist’s lasting legacy and the sorrow his audiences experienced with his untimely death.

Cassandra López, herself a retired high school teacher, emphasized teachers’ roles in preparing students for life in far more ways than just academic pursuits, and gave a special tribute to teachers and former teachers in the audience, including artist Eldica Miller – several of whose works were displayed in the hall, and poet Kharyshi Wiginton.

As the program ended, everyone joined in singing the spiritual, “It’s a freedom train a’ comin’ – get on board, get on board!”




Via People’s World

100,000 Poets for Change celebrated in Oakland

By Marilyn Bechtel

OAKLAND, Calif. – Poetry, music and film came together Sept. 30 as artists and community gathered at the Niebyl-Proctor Marxist Library to join in 100,000 Poets for Change, a celebration of artists around the world who are working for peace, economic and social justice.

The celebration was one of many in the San Francisco Bay Area, with hundreds more held in many countries during late September.

The program featured celebrated Caribbean percussionist and singer Val Serrant, who opened the program and performed several times during the evening.

Serrant was joined by area poets, whose works dramatize the issues facing working and poor people today.

Roxanne Jones’ poem told of the troubles of growing up with an impoverished single mother: “Have you seen it? Three days later, we faced syrup sandwiches because my mother hadn’t received the welfare check. I’d hear her say Hi to the mailman, and ask me to look in the mailbox to see if the welfare check had arrived. No, shit!”

Lupe Copendah wrote of the young cab driver she met while volunteering with Oakland’s Senior Companion Program. “Your eyes are like midnight, and your heart is like gold. You are my treasure to behold, and I shall call you, Midnight Gold … You are Muslim, I’m a Christian, but we bonded as two friends…We have kept each other just as we are…”

In her poem, Courtney shared her story of living with drug addiction: “… my world is twirling, so I shoot you into my veins. Now, life is art, a living painting …” She now has a non-profit in San Francisco where she works to help homeless youth find “other avenues like art and media and social justice and change in our community, other than drug use.”

Film held a central place in the program. The evening’s MC, Cassandra Lόpez, “Mama Cassie” to the community, introduced the collective producing the film work-in-progress, “We Tell Our Stories: This Side of Oakland,” led by writer and activist Lyndsey Ellis. A short clip featured Layloni Marshall, a young single mother of three, who, with help from the community, was recently able to graduate from San Francisco State University with a Bachelor’s Degree in Sociology.

“… be true to yourself,” Marshall says in the film. “That’s something I had to learn. I had to learn that no matter what people say, it doesn’t matter if you know who you are, and why you’re here. No matter what anybody says, if you want to do something, do it! This is your life, you are going to have to live this life.”

Also featured was a short clip from Alsenosi Adam’s film, Losing Oakland, an award-winning exploration of gentrification Adam made while a journalism grad student at UC Berkeley.

The clip begins with Adam telling host Kenny Choi of CBS TV’s Bay Sunday that his film seeks to look at what’s happening in West Oakland, “from a different angle, so we can really have a healthy discussion about gentrification, which is happening all over the world.”

Adam said that as he interviewed local people for a reporting class, he kept hearing, “Oakland is changing, Oakland is not what it used to be…and I set out to make a film about housing, a lot of people losing homes, and it was more than that – it was a community that is breaking down, that’s in fear of losing their homes. I wanted to tell it so it makes a difference, and that’s how I came to do Losing Oakland.”

Adam told how Lόpez – who is featured in the film – came from Detroit to San Francisco, and then to Oakland, in the late 1960s. “She loves Oakland; to her Oakland used to be a black community hub. And as she taught in the schools, she saw in time how our community is getting pushed out and broken down. Now,” he said, “she runs a library in West Oakland where she holds round-table discussions with African American community members, where they talk about the issues facing the community, like how they can stay in this ever-changing city.”

In the film, Lόpez says, “My biggest fear is that Oakland will lose its diversity and its class composition, that it will become like San Francisco. I like Oakland.”

The film also highlights the new people – largely white and younger – who are moving into Oakland as housing costs soar around the region, and who see the city as a good place to settle and build a new life.

Adam says he felt people going through gentrification are “talking at each other, not with each other…You set a table for an intelligent conversation when they meet somewhere.”

Lifelong Oaklander Swakemyua Mohammad followed his poem with a plea for fundamental changes in today’s society. “When we become older, we become wiser, and we see the way this (corporate) system is set up, it is doing exactly what it is meant to do. … Until we put a face on the true enemy in our society, day in and day out, we will never defeat that enemy. It’s not a race thing – it’s a human thing, a human condition, who we are as human beings.”

The evening ended with the audience viewing a video, Why We Vote, prepared by a group of young people as a call for audience members to not only vote themselves, but to make sure family and friends are registered and go to the polls on Nov. 8.

Juneteenth Awards Dinner “Embracing our successes while confronting today’s challenges”

Niebyl Proctor Library Proudly Presents

Niebyl Proctor Library Proudly Presents:  7th Annual 

Juneteenth Awards Dinner “Embracing our successes while confronting today’s challenges

Bar-b-cue Extravganza Family& Friends

Recognition of community members: Music, games and great conversation

Niebyl Proctor Library- 6501 Telegraph Avenue

June 25, 2016 @ 6:30pm-9pm

Tickets to help cover expenses: $20 adults

$5 for our little ones

Sponsors: Niebyl Proctor Library

We Tell Our Stories Film Collective

For more information:

Mama Cassie @ 510-517-0150

Clark Richard@ 510-290-5595



Celebrating Spanish Civil War veteran and lifelong activist Delmer Berg

May 27 2016

OAKLAND, Calif. – The life of the longest-surviving member of the Abraham Lincoln Brigade – the 2,800 Americans who helped fight the emerging fascist forces in the Spanish Civil War of the late 1930s – was celebrated May 21 by friends and family from around northern California.

The celebration of Del Berg’s life was held at the Niebyl-Proctor Marxist Library, and was co-sponsored by the library,, the Northern California Communist Party, and Veterans for Peace.

Esley Delmer Daniel Berg – known to all as Del – was over 100 years old at the time of his death on Feb. 28, 2016.

A lifelong political activist and leader, Del grew up in a poor farm worker family. In his early 20s, alarmed by the rise of fascist forces in Europe, he joined the Americans who traveled to Spain as part of the 40,000-strong International Brigades, to help Spanish anti-fascist fighters in their struggle against soon-to-be dictator Francisco Franco and his German and Italian fascist backers.

Though their mission ultimately failed, the “Lincolns” – sometimes called “premature anti-fascists” – have been celebrated ever since for their courage and dedication. Some 800 of the Lincolns died in Spain, and many of the survivors became among the most distinguished fighters in the U.S. military in World War II.

Returning to California in 1939, Berg later served with the U.S. Army in the Pacific before returning to life as a farm worker.

Del Berg’s multifaceted life – always fully engaged in people’s struggles for economic and social justice – inspired the speakers at his memorial celebration.

Among the many organizations he joined or supported was the Communist Party USA, which he joined in 1943, after returning from Army service. Northern California Communist Party chair Juan Lόpez said Berg “served with distinction” for years, as a member of the leadership collective, making the grueling trip to the Bay Area from his home in the Sierra foothills despite his age.

“At meetings, he would listen intently to anything that was being discussed,” Lόpez said. “When it came his turn to speak, he would tell you exactly what he thought – but his insightful views were founded on solid, often personal, experience in the struggles of the day.”

Nadya Williams, who MC’d the program, also cited Berg’s active membership in a broad spectrum of peace and social justice organizations, including Veterans for Peace, the United Farm Workers, the Mexican American Political Association, the California Democratic Party, the California Alliance of Retired Americans, and the NAACP, where he was elected vice president of his local chapter. Berg was also active in the anti-Vietnam War and anti-nuclear weapons movements, and women’s rights struggles as well.

John Veen, who traveled with his wife, Vickie, from their home in Fresno, Calif., told how Berg reached out from his Sierra foothills home to people in different parts of the Central Valley. “He was always talking about the need to bring together the Mexican American community, the African American community and the labor movement in general,” Veen said.

Though Berg participated in events organized by the Abraham Lincoln Brigade Archives, his mind was always focused in the present. “He wanted to talk about, what are we going to do now, John? What little, or not so little, thing can we do right now, to move forward? He was always giving me names and phone numbers of people in my area, and he wanted me to contact them.”

Nor were all of Berg’s activities political. Veen told of visiting Berg’s beautiful home up in the foothills, which he had built himself decades earlier, after retiring. Berg described how he blasted the foundation, including the time he accidently launched a big boulder into a neighboring area – fortunately with no known ill effects. Another time, a boulder that refused to move became an integral part of Berg’s study, known to family and friends as “the cave.”

“Another thing about Del – he danced!” Veen told the crowd. “Raise your hand if you’d be surprised to know there was a dance club, and Del was elected president!” No hands were raised.

When the mic was opened to friends in attendance, several told how Del Berg would always maintain that he wasn’t a “learned” person, and was very modest about his knowledge. But they emphasized the depth and clarity of his thinking, and his broad and thoughtful approach to every issue.

Berg also maintained an extensive correspondence with activists in the U.S. and internationally – all handwritten in an extremely neat script since he didn’t use a typewriter.

After listening intently to the remembrances by his father’s friends and comrades, son Ernst Berg added his own memories. “As it is with fathers and sons, sometimes you don’t have good communications. Unfortunately, that was the case for us. But seeing how much you all care, I can talk about my father’s personal life. He lived a long time because of a healthy environment and a dedication to the betterment of the human race.”

Ernst Berg called his father’s home in Columbia “an amazing achievement” – telling how his father had poured cement for the road, and brought up a giant crane to move boulders. “I don’t know where he got a crane, but he did. A crane and a dump truck.”

A full afternoon of tributes and memories included a video of Del Berg’s life, put together by People’s World social media editor Chauncey Robinson, and remarks by friends including PW writer Henry Millstein, who interviewed Berg in 2014, University of California at Chico Professor Char Prieto, who read the poem she wrote for Berg’s 100th birthday, and others.


Check out our Facebook page for more photos!