LARGO, Fla. – Carole Collier, chairperson of the Communist Party of Florida and a tireless advocate for equality, peace and socialism, passed away Sept. 28. She was 84.
Family, friends, and comrades gathered for a memorial at a funeral home Sept. 29 and remembered her courage and fighting spirit, active until the end despite chronic back pain and failing eyesight and hearing.A neighbor in the Largo retirement community where she lived told the gathering that the management attempted to push through a rent increase. Collier, knowing the fixed income of the seniors, led a fightback.
Jesse Kern, an activist with the Central Florida Jobs Committee, said that Collier, a handsome woman with cornflower blue eyes, looked like “an elderly matron on her way to the club to play bridge.” Yet this Alabama belle was a steel magnolia and a street-smart fighter.
She lived in Birmingham when the African American people rose up in revolt against segregation. “During that most turbulent time for our country,” Kern said, “that time of civil rights struggles, of murder and lynchings and bombings of homes and houses of worship, our dear Carole was there, working with Brother Hosea Hudson, both of them putting their life and limb at risk.”
John Streater, a Tampa union schoolteacher, recalled that Collier always helped people see the crucial need for unity of workers and oppressed people. He read aloud Langston Hughes’ poem “Mother to Son” with its refrain, “Life ain’t been no crystal stair.”
Carole Collier, who also went by her married name, Ballin, was born in Oregon on Nov. 28, 1919. Among her forebears was William Hooper, signer of the Declaration of Independence. Her mother taught briefly at the University of California, Berkeley. In her early childhood the family moved to Alabama. In her youth, she met Hosea Hudson, the African American steelworker and Communist who became her mentor. Hudson recounted those years of struggle in his memoir Black Worker in the Deep South (International Publishers). Hudson recruited her to the Young Communist League and the CPUSA. Those were the years of the Great Depression and she threw herself into the struggles of the unemployed and the union organizing drives of the CIO. She campaigned against lynchings as well as against the rising menace of Hitler fascism.
She met and married a University of Alabama student, Richard Ballin. They had three children, Robin, Andrew, and Jon, who survive her along with five grandchildren. The marriage ended in divorce.
Later, she moved north and joined the staff of the Worker, writing extensively about the civil rights movement. She met and married Claude Lightfoot, a leader of the CPUSA. They later divorced.
In the mid-1970s she was assigned as CP organizer in Florida. She was a co-founder of the Tampa chapter of the Women’s International League for Peace and Freedom. She helped convince the labor movement to join the annual Martin Luther King Jr. parade in St. Petersburg. From her home on Caracas Street in Tampa, she worked to make the Florida CP an active partner in the broad movement of unions, African American and Latino organizations that delivered a majority vote against George W. Bush in the 2000 election. She worked hard to defeat Gov. Jeb Bush in the 2002 election.
Collier helped organize against preemptive wars in Afghanistan and Iraq. She helped organize a conference devoted to the great Cuban independence leader Jose Marti who had lived in exile for a time among the Cuban-American cigar-makers in nearby Ybor City.
She wrote two novels. Search for Freedom (Citadel Press), was a story of the struggle to end racist segregation. Just before her death, she published Jeremiah (Professional Press), the story of a Black youth coming of age in the segregated South. She was also a gifted artist, her home decorated with her own oil paintings.
“The word a lot of people used to describe my mother is independent,” said her daughter, Robin Ballin of Annapolis, Md. “But she also had that southern warmth. She fought against injustice wherever she was.”