This autobiography begins with Denby's youth in a Black sharecropping family in Alabama. It moves to his workplace struggles in the auto industry and to his thought and activity as a Marxist-Humanist and colleague of Raya Dunayevskaya.


From News & Letters, December 2003:


"Revolutionary Life of Charles Denby" by Susan Van Gelder


The publication of a 40th anniversary edition of AMERICAN CIVILIZATION ON TRIAL by Raya Dunayevskaya and the long-awaited DIALECTICS OF BLACK FREEDOM STRUGGLES by John Alan reminds us, on the 20th anniversary of his death, how significant Charles Denby was to the development of Marxist-Humanist philosophy and its organization, News and Letters Committees. As Raya Dunayevskaya put it,


"The 75 years of Charles Denby's life are so full of class struggles, Black revolts, freedom movements that they not only illuminate the present, but cast a light even on the future. Listening to him, you felt you were witnessing an individual's life that was somehow universal, and that touched you personally. The genius of Charles Denby lies in the fact that the story of his life--INDIGNANT HEART: A BLACK WORKER'S JOURNAL--is the history of workers' struggles for freedom, his and all others the world over."




Charles Denby was a Black auto production worker who grew up in rural Alabama and came north to Detroit with many other young Black men in the 1920s to work in the auto factories. He became involved in race and class struggles and was recruited into the Trotskyist movement. He quickly discovered the increasing division between rank-and-file labor and the union bureaucracy and refused to become a part of the union leadership. During the 1950s he chose to work with Raya Dunayevskaya and remained with her through several organizational splits. Their experiences led him to accept editorship of NEWS & LETTERS when it was founded in 1955 because he "felt strongly that there was an imperative need for A NEW KIND of workers' paper" (emphasis added). His column "Worker's Journal" appeared on the front page of each issue until his death in 1983.


What does it mean to say "Workers as revolutionary thinkers?" First, Denby's experiences as an African-American Southern farmer and autoworker had given him a desire for freedom that was total. He fought a life-long battle against the fragmentation of himself that capitalism forces upon us all. In Marxist-Humanism Denby helped develop a philosophy of liberation which in turn helped him develop and concretize his drive to be a full human being. Marxist-Humanism strives toward Marx's vision of a society centered on human needs and capacities. Denby understood how alienating capitalist society is and how totally it must be uprooted for a better world to begin.


Denby's writings, as he was the first to insist, reflect dialogues, discussions, debates with other workers. His was an individualism that always retained his awareness of connection to the mass movement, or as Hegel had put it, "individualism that lets nothing interfere with its universality, or freedom." In the pamphlet WORKERS BATTLE AUTOMATION written in 1960, Charles Denby is the primary author, but brought in other workers to tell their own stories and share their own views, often differing from his own, of automation in steel, light manufacturing, and even offices. This is indeed revolutionary in a society where workers are supposed to be ignorant and unwilling to think.


"A unique combination of worker and intellectual"-- this is not only a principle of Marxist-Humanist journalism and organization, but a description of Charles Denby himself. The stories of his life that make up his autobiography, INDIGNANT HEART: A BLACK WORKER'S JOURNAL are not abstract discussions about philosophy. Philosophy is present throughout.

Indignant Heart: A Black Worker's Journal by Charles Denby (used)

  • Black Rose Books 1979

    Unjacketed hardcover in very good condition

    Stated first edition

    295 pages