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Guide to the Cedric Belfrage Papers TAM.143

Tamiment Library and Robert F. Wagner Labor Archive
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Tamiment Library and Robert F. Wagner Labor Archives

Collection processed by Amy Meselson in 1993. Edited by Maggie Schreiner in February 2014 for compliance with DACS and Tamiment Required Elements for Archival Description and to reflect the incorporation of nonprint materials. Box 31 added in May 2014.

This finding aid was produced using ArchivesSpace on April 19, 2018
Finding aid is written in English. using Describing Archives: A Content Standard

 Updated by Megan O'Shea to incorporate artwork being sent to offsite art storage in September 2017  , August 2017

Historical/Biographical Note

Cedric Belfrage, socialist, author, journalist, translator, and co-founder of the National Guardian, was born in London on November 8, 1904. He came from a conservative middle-class family and his father was a doctor. During his childhood and adolescence he attended public school, and at the age of twenty-one went to college at Cambridge University. His early career as a film critic began there, where he published his first article in  Kinematograph Weekly on May 8, 1924.

In 1926 Belfrage travelled to New York where film criticism was a more profitable occupation. There he wrote for magazines and newspapers such as Picturegoer, Bioscope, The New York Herald Tribune, The Daily News, and  Commercial Art. Belfrage's characteristic ironic humor is evident even in these early writings. In 1927 his career as a film critic propelled him further west, to Hollywood. He traveled by train and arrived with $23.00. He was hired by the   New York Sun and  Film Weekly (based in London) as a Hollywood correspondent. In 1928 he was married to Virginia Bradford, a Hollywood starlet, whom he divorced about two years later.

Belfrage returned to London in 1930 as Sam Goldwyn's press agent. Once there, Lord Beaverbrook of the Sunday Express (later  Daily Express) soon hired him and in 1932 sent him back to Hollywood as the paper's correspondent.  The Express sent him on another film criticism journey in 1934, this time around the world. This voyage provided Belfrage with the material for his first book,  Away From It All (published in 1937 by Gollancz, Simon and Schuster, and Literary Guild, and in 1940 by Penguin). It was also during this voyage that Belfrage became politicized. Not only did he witness the poverty brought about by imperialism, but also "the advent of Hitlerism and the lack of alarm in the British ruling circles." (  Guardian obituary, Jul 4, 1990)

When Gollancz accepted Away From It All in 1936, Belfrage resigned from the  Express to settle back in Hollywood, with his new wife Molly Castle, and their daughter Sally. At this point he became politically active for the first time, joining the Hollywood Anti-Nazi League and the Spanish Republican Committee, and co-editing a left literary magazine,  The Clipper. He also collaborated with Theodore Dreiser on a book.  Away From It All proved successful, and Belfrage soon began work on his second book,  The Promised Land, dispelling various myths about Hollywood. In 1937, Belfrage met Claude Williams, a Presbyterian preacher from Arkansas, with whom he became fast friends and would have an on-going collaborative relationship. Williams was on a fund raising tour for his People's Institute of Applied Religion, a Christian Marxist organization in solidarity with southern sharecroppers and the Civil Rights movement. Belfrage wrote a biography of Williams that was published as  Let My People Go in 1937 by Gollancz (and as  South of God in 1938 by Left Book Club, and as   A Faith To Free The People in 1942 by Modern Age, Dryden Press and Book Find Club).

Belfrage's political engagement, which seems at this time to have centered on the broad based anti-fascist effort, led him to join the Communist Party in 1937. The fact the he withdrew his membership a few months later, and that he had only just begun to read Marx and Lenin, suggests that he joined because of the C.P.'s visible, accessible and organized protest against fascism, rather than because of any allegiance to the C.P. itself. After this break, Belfrage would maintain a friendly but critical relationship with the Communist Party.

In 1941, the Belfrage family, now including two year old Nicholas, moved to New York where Cedric served with British Intelligence. Also in 1941, he had an autobiography published, They All Hold Swords (Modern Age). He continued his work with British Intelligence until 1943, and in 1944 became a Press Control Officer in London for the Supreme Headquarters Allied Expeditional Forces (SHAEF) Psychological Warfare Division (PWD). He was sent in this capacity to France and then to Germany where his mission was to de-Nazify the German press by helping found the first anti-fascist newspaper in Germany after World War II, the  Frankfurt Rundschau. At this time Belfrage met Jim Aronson who was working on the same project. The two would go on to found the  National Guardian (along with Jack McManus) and become life-long best friends.

Belfrage returned to the U.S. in 1945, where he settled with his family in Croton-on-Hudson, New York. He received a Guggenheim fellowship to write Seeds of Destruction, his chronicle of de-Nazifying the German press, but the Cold War made its publication impossible until 1954 (Cameron & Kahn). At this time, he also worked on his novel about the U.S. funeral industry,  Abide With Me (Sloane Associates, N.Y., 1948, Secker & Warburg, London, 1948, translated in Germany and Czechoslovakia). In 1947 his third child, Anne, was born.

In the summer of 1948, Belfrage travelled to southeast Missouri to visit Claude Williams. He spent several months there and was introduced to Claude's friends, Owen Whitfield (Whit), a black sharecropper preacher, and Thad Snow, a white cotton planter and Whit's neighbor. From them Belfrage learned about the Sharecropper's Strike of 1939, which was organized by Whit and Thad. He began writing a book on this event and these two men, but never completed it (though he took it up again in 1982), due to another project that came up: founding a newspaper.

The fall of 1948 marks the birth of The National Guardian, a progressive newsweekly. Its purpose was, as Belfrage put it in his address to the 1980 Meiklejohn Institute Symposium on HUAC, "to oppose head-on both the witch-hunts and the Cold War of which they were the domestic auxiliary," but on a strictly non-partisan basis. The paper also aimed to unify the left, as Belfrage explained in a 1986  Guardian interview: "There's apparently something about Marxism which makes its devotees fight each other like cats and dogs. And this was an attempt to stop that." (published in the Fall 1988 40th Anniversary Journal). This goal of unity typifies Belfrage's political stand, which was critical but always aiming to strengthen ties among leftist groups rather than emphasize differences.

The National Guardian drew its readership largely from the Progressive Party. The first issue featured an article by progressive Henry Wallace, whom the  National Guardian endorsed as a presidential candidate on the independent ballot that year. The paper also found support in the American Labor Party. Congressman Vito Marcantonio was especially enthusiastic about the paper. It reported on such issues and events as the trial and execution of Ethel and Julius Rosenberg, charged with 'atomic espionage' for the Soviet Union, the Korean War (the paper opposed it), the indictment of reporter Anna Louise Strong (  National Guardian foreign correspondent) in the Soviet Union as a U.S. spy, the Trenton Six, the murder of Emmet Till, and the growth of the Civil Rights movement (it was the first American newspaper to have a Black History section). It supported national liberation struggles around the world: Africa in the 1950's, Southeast Asia in the 1960's and early 1970's, and Latin America in the 1980's. It also supported the Student Non-Violent Coordinating Committee (in which Sally Belfrage was extremely active and about which she wrote her first book,  Freedom Summer). The  National Guardian was among the first papers to oppose the Vietnam War with on-scene reports from foreign correspondent Wilfred Burchett. Another cause taken up by the  National Guardian was the defense of political prisoners such as Alger Hiss, Corliss Lamont, the Hollywood Ten, and Ann and Carl Braden, many of whom Belfrage knew personally and had an on-going correspondence with.

Due to such reportage the National Guardian was constantly harassed by the government, culminating in 1953 when Belfrage was summoned to appear before the House Un-American Activities Committee (HUAC) and Senator Joe McCarthy. Belfrage invoked the fifth amendment at his hearing in response to charges of being a Communist Party member. The next day he was arrested by immigration officials at his desk in the  National Guardian office. Belfrage alone among the paper's staff was vulnerable to arrest due to his status as an alien; he had never obtained U.S. citizenship. He was taken to Ellis Island where he spent one month in jail.

But Belfrage's troubles with the government were not over and he was again arrested in 1955. This time he spent three months at the West Street Federal Penitentiary before he was deported (along with his third wife, Jo) back to his native England. There he became the editor-in-exile of the National Guardian. As a reporter, he travelled to India, East and West Europe, Israel, Russia (just after Nikita Krushchev's 1956 "Secret Speech" on Stalin), China, where in 1957 Belfrage was "the only person...reporting for an American publication" (1986  Guardian interview), and Ghana, where he renewed his friendship with W.E.B. DuBois. He also helped organize a British committee to obtain a U.S. passport for African-American singer Paul Robeson. In addition to reporting, Belfrage wrote a book at this time about his deportation experience,  The Frightened Giant (Secker & Warburg, London, 1956, Guardian Books, N.Y., 1957).

In 1961, Belfrage travelled to Cuba and in 1962 throughout South America. He used his experience in Cuba to write a historical novel, My Master Columbus (Secker & Warburg, 1961, Doubleday, N.Y., 1962) and his South American experiences were published in 1963 as  The Man at the Door With The Gun (Monthly Review Press). In the same year, Belfrage settled in Cuernavaca, Mexico with his fourth and last wife, Mary. There they ran a left-wing guest house and offered refuge to South American exiles.

In 1967 Belfrage resigned from the National Guardian (which then shortened its name to the  Guardian), as did Aronson. The new  Guardian staff wanted the paper to become an ideological leader of the New Left. Neither Belfrage nor Aronson could endorse this move, as they had deliberately founded the  Guardian on a non-sectarian basis and as a unifying force on the left. As Belfrage wrote in a letter dated April 11, 1966 to staff member Jack Smith, "What seems beyond a doubt is that our non-sectarian radicalism is the main basis of the support we receive, the main thing  NG has that other Left publications don't have...I would describe the paper as an organ and defender of, and newspaper of record for, all groups and individuals who are fighting the political and social status quo..." Belfrage's relations with the  Guardian remained hostile for a time, though by the 1980's he was corresponding with the staff and writing book reviews and articles.

While 1967 marks the end of one phase in Belfrage's career, it also marks the beginning of a new one. He made his debut as a Spanish/English translator with Eduardo Galeano's Guatemala Occupied Country (Monthly Review Press). He achieved great success in this field and was extremely talented. From about 1970 to 1973 Belfrage's main project was researching and writing his book on the McCarthy era,  The American Inquisition (Bobbs Merrill, 1973, Siglo XXI, Mexico, Thunder' Mouth Press, 1989). In 1973, Belfrage returned to the U.S. for the first time since 1955 (after a lengthy campaign to obtain a visa) on a publicity tour for his new book. He lectured at universities and to left organizations throughout the country.

In 1981 Belfrage suffered a stroke which partially paralyzed his left hand. He continued to write extensively until his last years. He translated Eduardo Galeano's trilogy on Latin America, Memory of Fire (Pantheon, 1985), for which he received much acclaim. He also began writing (but never finished) a memoir, and a book on his time in Hollywood, focusing on the social and cultural side rather than the political, and returned to his book on Thad and Whit. He also began biographies on the Mexican Revolutionary, Emiliano Zapata, and the Spanish priest Las Casas who befriended the natives at the time Spain conquered Mexico. Belfrage's sense of humor remained sharp during his last years as is evident in various short writings such as an  Encyclopedia of Useless Information, and a novel about a nudist colony. In addition to writing, he was active with Mary in the aid of South American refugees, and together they continued to welcome friends and comrades to their home. He died in Mexico on June 21, 1990.

BOOKS BY CEDRIC BELFRAGE

  • 'Away From It All.' Gollancz, London, 1937; Simon & Schuster, 1937; Literary Guild, 1937 Penguin (Britain) ppbk. 1940.
  • 'Promised Land.' Gollancz, London, 1937; Left Book Club, London, 1937; Republished by Garland, N.Y., Classics of Film Literature series, 1983.
  • 'Let My People Go.' Gollancz, London, 1937.
  • 'South of God.' Left Book Club, 1938.
  • 'A Faith to Free the People.' Modern Age, N.Y., 1942; Dryden Press, N.Y., 1944; Book Find Club, 1944; (translated into Chinese and German) by the People's Institute of Applied Religion.
  • 'They All Hold Swords.' Modern Age, N.Y., 1941
  • 'Abide With Me.' Sloane Associates, N.Y., 1948; Secker & Warburg, London, 1948; (translated in Germany and Czechoslovakia)
  • 'Seeds of Destruction.' Cameron & Kahn, N.Y., 1954
  • 'The Frightened Giant.' Secker & Warburg, London, 1956
  • 'My Master Columbus.' Secker & Warburg, 1961; Doubleday, N.Y., 1962; Editiones Contemporaneos, Mexico, (in Spanish). Also translated in Germany and Czechoslovakia.
  • 'The Man at the Door With the Gun.' Monthly Review, N.Y., 1963
  • 'The American Inquisition.' Bobbs-Merrill, 1973; Siglo XXI, Mexico (in Spanish) Thunder's Mouth Press, 1989.
  • 'Something to Guard.' Columbia University Press, 1978

Translations (all for Monthly Review Press, N.Y. & London, unless indicated)

  • Galeano: Guatemala Occupied Country, 1967.
  • Silen: We the Puerto Rican People, 1971.
  • Galeano: Open Veins of Latin America, 1973.
  • Galeano: Workers' Struggle in Puerto Rico, 1976.
  • Fraginals: The Sugarmill, 1976.
  • Selser: Sandino, 1981.
  • Galeano: Memory of Fire (translated 1983) Pantheon, 1985.