NEW YORK — Benjamin Davis, the Communist city councilor from Harlem who was removed from the council and imprisoned during the McCarthy period, was finally honored nearly 60 years later at an overflow meeting in Harlem’s Schomburg Center for Research in Black Culture, Oct. 16. It was the kickoff of a campaign to rehabilitate his name.

While on the City Council, Davis worked to legalize rent strikes and prevent evictions. He was a leader in struggles for integration of sports, equal housing, labor rights, civil rights and peace.

City Council Deputy Majority Leader Bill Perkins (D-Manhattan) told the crowd of over 100 that Davis’ message is particularly important today, in light of the “social injustices that are taking place, not only in our city, but throughout this country.”

Perkins presented a City Council proclamation honoring Davis to Davis’ daughter Emily Davis, his niece Jean Carey Bond and contemporaries James and Esther Jackson.

Frank Barbaro, a former State Assembly member and N.Y. Supreme Court judge, said Davis was “the voice of peace, of ending exploitation, against the apartheid system in South Africa, against nuclear armament, against red-baiting, for working people.”

“He was a role model for those of us who felt that something was wrong with a system where certain people were making all the money, and other people were starving, dying of not getting health care, dying of not getting nutrition.”

Jarvis Tyner, Communist Party USA executive vice chair, who helped organize the event, noted that Davis defended Angelo Herndon, a young African American Communist Party organizer charged with insurrection in the 1930s. “The trial was a turning point for Davis. In the heat of the battle against racism and anticommunism,” Tyner said, Davis joined the Communist Party “just like tens of thousands of others did during the Great Depression. As Ben put it, ‘It required only a moment to join, but my whole lifetime as an American Negro prepared me for that moment.’”

Perkins said future plans include pressing for a City Council resolution rehabilitating Davis, and efforts to rename a Harlem street after him.

“There will be a day when there will be a statue outside here for Ben Davis,” Barbaro said. “And to Paul Robeson and Malcolm X — three giants. When the evil nightmare of Bush, Rumsfeld, Condoleezza Rice, Wolfowitz are nothing but a faint, distasteful nightmare memory, those statues will shine in the sunlight.”

The event was sponsored by the Committee to Honor Benjamin J. Davis. It can be reached at (646) 437-3555.

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