Lawrence Dennis, Racial Passing, and the Rise of Right-Wing Extremism in the United States
New York University Press
What does it mean that Lawrence Dennis—arguably the “brains” behind U.S. fascism—was born black but spent his entire adult life passing for white? Born in Atlanta in 1893, Dennis began life as a highly touted African American child preacher, touring nationally and arousing audiences with his dark-skinned mother as his escort. However, at some point between leaving prep school and entering Harvard University, he chose to abandon his family and his former life as an African American in order to pass for white. Dennis went on to work for the State Department and on Wall Street, and ultimately became the public face of U.S. fascism, meeting with Mussolini and other fascist leaders in Europe. He underwent trial for sedition during World War II, almost landing in prison, and ultimately became a Cold War critic before dying in obscurity in 1977. Based on extensive archival research, The Color of Fascism blends biography, social history, and critical race theory to illuminate the fascinating life of this complex and enigmatic man. Gerald Horne links passing and fascism, the two main poles of Dennis's life, suggesting that Dennis’s anger with the U.S. as a result of his upbringing in Jim Crow Georgia led him to alliances with the antagonists of the U.S. and that his personal isolation which resulted in his decision to pass dovetailed with his ultimate isolationism. Dennis’s life is a lasting testament to the resilience of right-wing thought in the U.S. The first full-scale biographical portrait of this intriguing figure, The Color of Fascism also links the strange career of a prominent American who chose to pass.
Gerald Horne is Moores Professor of History and African American Studies at the University of Houston, and has published three dozen books including, The Counter-Revolution of 1776: Slave Resistance and the Origins of the USA and Race War! White Supremacy and the Japanese Attack on the British Empire.
As in his previous works, Horne proves adept at detailing the saga of a politically minded individual confronted with race-based constraints. He is admirably evenhanded in addressing a character with political views diametrically opposed to his own. Horne rightfully portrays Dennis as ‘heartless, pitiless, and desensitized [in his] approach to life and politics, but he also convincingly argues that the author of The Coming American Fascism (1936) developed such a personality due to discrimination as a youth and fear of radical exposure as an adult.
This is, then, a serious and important book written by a very talented historian.
Shedding light on both passing and the formation of a proposed fascism with a human face, this book will prove useful for scholars of race and class in the US as well as scholars of fascist doctrine and theory.
Randall Kennedy,Harvard Law School: With his characteristic verve, Horne has written an excellent book about the fascinating and mysterious Lawrence Dennis. This pairing of the leftist black intellectual Horne and the racially-closeted fascist Dennis makes for an exciting exploration of obscure terrain that warrants more notice. Horne has performed an important service by revealing so vividly Dennis's strange but instructive career.
Kenneth Janken,author of White: The Biography of Walter White, Mr. NAACP: I am almost certainly not alone in expressing surprise that Lawrence Dennis, the principal American intellectual fascist, was an African American who 'passed' for white. In the process of explaining Dennis's rise and how his secret minority status shaped his political extremism, Gerald Horne has researched and written a compelling and significant history of American fascism.