His Case Shows The Injustice Within America's Legal System

political cartoon with white judge holding a noose that is around black man's neck
L. Graciella Maiolatesi
December 20, 2021

In 1932, Angelo Herndon was arrested for organizing a peaceful protest for unemployed workers’ rights in Atlanta. Labeled a “Communist,” some wanted to see him executed.

But even the all-white jury suggested mercy! So the judge let him go free, right? Well …

No! He was sentenced to 20 years on a chain gang! This incited national outrage. Black organizers spoke up, and there were multiple attempts to free Herndon, but the US legal system wanted to make an example of him. His trials were postponed, his bail was increased by $22,000, and he was forced to share a cell with a dead body!

But his community continued protesting, and this gave him hope.

In 1937, Herndon’s case gained enough attention to land in front of the U.S. Supreme Court – and Herndon was finally freed. But was this justice?

Historically, Black organizers were arrested or killed to keep them silent – a tactic still used today. The US legal system operates on a white supremacist agenda, silencing those who are close to achieving liberation. 

“You may succeed in killing one [or] two...organizers,” Herndon once said, “but you cannot kill the working class!”

He knew the fight for workers’ rights was bigger than his individual freedom. Like Herndon, we must challenge oppressive systems, and like his community, we must be ready to pick up the torch in support!

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