New Year’s Eve reminiscing with lifelong communist Mary Gosman Scarborough
Tear gas fills the air as Dearborn Police and Ford Motor Company Servicemen attack demonstrators outside of the Rouge Plant during the 1932 Ford Hunger March. | Walter P. Reuther Library

My great-aunt Mary Gosman Scarborough was born in Russia “at the time of the Czar” and was sent by her parents to America with a man, a family friend, when she was only twelve. They neglected to tell her that he was to be her husband, which exacerbated an already difficult life.

Mary was a hard worker and a believer in the Communist Party all her life. In Detroit, she was an organizer of the Ford Hunger March and the Unemployed Councils, and went to jail on numerous occasions for these and other activities. As her grandson William McAdoo wrote to me, “Her book is testimony to her extraordinary journey through modern times and the struggles she has waged and principles she has embraced along the way.”

Mary raised two daughters and was a beloved mother, grandmother and friend. Her belief in the Party never wavered, and in 1957 she wrote a book of reminiscences, Whirlwinds of Danger. It was hard to decide which of these chapters to submit by way of recognizing the centennial of the Party, but I think “New Year’s Eve—1957” is especially moving and is an excellent picture of who my Aunt Mary was, the indelible memories she held, and the particular moment at which she was writing.

New Year’s Eve—1957, by Mary Scarborough 

Our enjoyable New Year’s Eve party began at six in the evening with our closest friends. Naturally we started off drinking coffee and eating cake and by the time we got through talking about old times and new developments and the outcome of it all, we agreed that we can’t get away from the basic principle: that without the Party we would not have accomplished so much all over the world which is moving to socialism. This we know and it is no secret any more. It is coming out more and more, and it would be a mistake to underestimate the American working class—ourselves included.

Mary Scarborough Gosman in 1943 | J.L.Hudson / Courtesy of Susan Gosman

Of course we made mistakes. We should be severely criticized and correct them by changing our methods of work and our approach. And I believe this can be done, but not by hiding our face in the sand. We’ve just got to see where we are going. This is my simple way of thinking.

We went through many struggles and achieved accomplishments—yes in the United States of America, too—and the reason was that we have a principle, the same as progressive people all over the world. We have a goal and know where we are going. We won’t get there by changing our name. It is a good name—the only one that stands out. This is how we feel and think in Michigan.

Once the Party in Michigan mobilized tens of thousands into unions, mass organizations, workers’ clubs and workers’ camps. There were struggles galore. Some of us were ready to die for our principles—some of us died for all this. It is not so long ago. Our tree is standing now with fallen branches. No attention has been given to it for quite a while. It was criminally neglected. Now the time has come to revive it. We are all talking about it but it will take a lot of doing and changing—some trimming, some shaping. It will start spreading once we cut away the stale limbs.

2019 marks a century since the founding of the Communist Party USA. To commemorate the anniversary of the longest surviving socialist organization in the United States, People’s World has launched the article series: 100 Years of the Communist Party USA. Read the other articles published in the series and check out the guidelines about how to submit your own contribution.

It is the most valuable tree in the heart of Michigan. It was bearing fruit for many years—in the tens of thousands. It was really something. I think most of us had a taste of it—the old and the young—during the Depression years when we were fighting for relief for our young and bringing the union into the shops.

Young people too. You remember Joe Bussell, 16, was killed in the struggle to unionize Ford. So were five other workers, one a Negro youth. I am giving you the facts. I was there. Not only was I there—I had the blood of dying comrades all over my clothes, helping to take them to the hospital, helping them into a car. There were three in the back seat and three in the front, the driver, myself and Joe York, a young Communist who was dying of his wounds. The car door opened and Joe started falling out. One of the wounded comrades in the back seat who was bleeding to death became hysterical and screamed at us to take care of Joe and continued screaming that they were dying. A fountain of blood was running all over the car and onto all of us. I don’t know where I got the strength—I weighed 95 pounds and Joe was stretched over me unconscious—but I pulled myself up and sharply slapped the hysterical screaming man in the back seat so that the driver could calm down enough to get us to a hospital.

Mary Scarborough Gosman in later life. | Courtesy of Susan Gosman

The nearest hospital was Ford’s Hospital and when we got to it, the doctors and nurses stood outside staring at us. When I asked them to help us they didn’t move, just stood and stared. Then I got hysterical. I cried and begged and pleaded—“they are so young,” “you have children,” “help them.”  It must have been 15 or 20 minutes but it felt like a century until I broke through one doctor’s heart and he asked us to bring them in. By that time only the driver and I could still move. First we took Joe, 6 feet tall, weighing about 180 pounds—dragging and carrying him. Then we took the others the same way. And by the time we got them into the hospital they were half dead from loss of blood. In 15 minutes they were all pronounced dead.

I became hysterical again. I touched Joe. He was cold and stiff. He was the one I knew better than the others. Then I made my pledge right before the doctors and nurses: that I would remember this for the rest of my life and that I would never rest until Ford paid for it.

And this is part of the payment: the union was born—not only at Ford but all over Michigan. The Young Communist League and the Communist Party were there with hundreds thousands of workers. In this hour the union was born.


Susan Gosman
Susan Gosman

Susan Gosman writes from Los Angeles.