Workers Vanguard No. 910

14 March 2008


Peggy Dye


Peggy Dye, a longtime friend of the Spartacist League and supporter of the work of the Partisan Defense Committee, died of cancer in New York City on 4 December 2007 at the age of 64. Peggy was from a black working-class family. Her mother encouraged her to go to a more distant school in an integrated neighborhood near Chicago. Later she received a full scholarship to the elite, all-women Vassar College, where as one of four black students she faced isolation and prejudice. In 1965 she graduated as a history major. At a March 8 memorial, her best friend from college particularly remembered Peggy for bringing her to meetings by Malcolm X.

Peggy described herself as a freelance independent writer/organizer/public affairs consultant. She also worked for several years as a city planner, but was fired for being a whistle-blower. There was nothing parochial about Peggy. In 1986, Peggy became a war correspondent in Western Sahara and then traveled to El Salvador to report on the hospital conditions during the civil war. In 1989, she wrote articles for the Village Voice about plans to raze Harlem’s landmark Audubon Ballroom, where Malcolm X was assassinated. A talented writer, she spent many years writing a novel, Country Negro Spy, which she was still working on when she died.

We first knew Peggy in the late ’60s, when she was around the Spartacist League. When we encountered Peggy again, more than a decade later, she was working with Conrad Lynn, a courageous black activist and radical civil rights lawyer.

Peggy became more actively involved with the PDC when she enthusiastically supported the mobilization initiated by the PDC to stop the KKK from marching in New York City on 23 October 1999. She was excited to see the power of the multiracial working class brought to bear that day, when 8,000 people stopped the Klan in its tracks. To be sure, Peggy was very preoccupied with reaching for and motivating what she described as spirituality in people, with which we, as Marxists, disagree. But she was also a very political person. While never a member of the SL or the Labor Black League, she believed in the need to transform this capitalist society through the mobilization of the working class and described herself as a revolutionary. She told us that one of her favorite books was Their Morals and Ours by Leon Trotsky.

Over the last several years, until she became ill and could no longer be active, Peggy’s work with the PDC/LBL was primarily around the campaign to free Mumia Abu-Jamal, a black journalist whom the government wants to execute for his political beliefs and activities as a former Black Panther and supporter of the MOVE organization.

She was solidly committed to fighting to free Mumia and she had no patience for anything short of mobilizing the broadest possible masses for Mumia’s freedom. She went back to the newspapers she worked on in the labor movement—of DC 37, 1199 SEIU, the national writers union—to try to get articles printed publicizing Mumia’s case, and, no doubt as a result of her work, 1199 had a very powerful, long article on Mumia.

At a 28 October 2006 rally for Mumia in Harlem, called by the PDC and the LBL, a discussion erupted when a supporter of the Free Mumia Coalition asked the audience to sign a petition to name a Harlem street in honor of Mumia. The petition called for a “new and fair trial” rather than stating that Mumia is innocent and calling for his freedom. Thus the PDC could not sign it. Peggy spoke from the floor, solidarizing with the PDC while making clear her political differences:

“I’m not a member of the Spartacist League and I do support a lot of what the Spartacist League says, and I also am very partisan about the Partisan Defense Committee….

“First of all I’d like to say that since we are saying differences, you know the main difference that I sometimes have with the Workers Vanguard and the Spartacists…is that the articles are really long and they’re hard to read [laughter]. And sometimes there’s no story, there’s just a lot of conclusions, and you have to really think hard. So I’m a writer and I like a story, and I want to understand things plain like Malcolm X said….

“But I’m going to say something really plain now. I work with another group that supports Mumia, and I sat and cried about two weeks ago when the group was talking about sending out a letter to ask for support for Mumia, to raise money for his trial. And I said, ‘Why don’t we put in the letter that he’s innocent?’ Well, all hell broke out. ‘We can’t do that, we’ll alienate people. Some people think he’s guilty.’ And I said, ‘I’m from Chicago. Nobody gives money to a guilty guy!’ They said, ‘We’ve got to go the legal route, we’ve got to exhaust the possibilities.’ And I said, ‘I’ve got this thing from this group called the Partisan Defense Committee.’ I was really proud of it; I want everybody in here to go out of here tonight and get a copy of the ad with the 400 names. I said, ‘Don’t you see that Henry Louis Gates and Manning Marable and Cindy Sheehan, they all signed a letter that said they believe he’s innocent? You mean to tell me we’re so chickenshit we can’t say he’s innocent?’ Get that letter, take it to 1199, take it to all your unions, tell them to put it in the newspaper.”

Fighting for her convictions, Peggy actively participated in our effort to publicize Mumia’s case and was insistent that we put an ad in the Nation, paying out of her own pocket to make this possible. She was also a regular PDC sustainer.

A memorial for Peggy took place at the Lafayette Avenue Presbyterian Church in Brooklyn, which she had attended. Gene Herson, supporter of the SL and Labor Coordinator for the PDC, spoke at the memorial and remarked that it was fitting that this memorial was held in a place that had been a major station in the underground railroad. It also took place on International Women’s Day. At the memorial, her friend Marilyn Nance read a speech Peggy had given exactly ten years earlier, on International Women’s Day in 1998. In that speech, Peggy recalled that this day also commemorates the 1911 Triangle Shirtwaist Factory fire in which 148 women garment workers, most of them immigrants, died because the exit doors were locked. She noted that as recently as 1991, at a chicken processing plant in North Carolina, 25 workers, predominantly black women, died in a fire in similar circumstances and that a lot of women around the world were still working in sweatshops in horrible conditions.

Many comrades, especially in New York, grew to know Peggy and appreciated that she wanted to transmit her experience, knowledge and understanding of society to the youth. When she came to our forums, she would always raise thought-provoking interventions and questions. This vivacious, feisty and passionate activist will be sorely missed.