I am the biographer of Mae Mallory and the Monroe Defense Committee. My parents Audrey Proctor Seniors and Clarence Henry Seniors founded the Monroe Defense Committee.
My forthcoming book Mae Mallory, The Monroe Defense Committee and World Revolutions: African American Women Radical Activists 1958-1987, University of Georgia Press explores how in 1961 Mae traveled to Monroe, North Carolina to support The Negroes with Guns Movement, Robert F. Williams, and the visiting Freedom Riders. Accused of kidnapping The Stegalls,’ a Ku Klux Klan couple, she escaped to Cleveland where she was incarcerated.
My parents Audrey Proctor and Clarence Henry Seniors of the New Orleans NAACP and the Trotskyist/Maoist Workers World Party respectively founded the Monroe Defense Committee in Cleveland Ohio, with Mrs. Ethel Azalea Johnson of the Negroes with Guns Movement, and Ruthie Stone of the Workers World Party. They worked to gain Mallory’s release from prison, prevent her extradition to Monroe, North Carolina, and fight the kidnapping charges. Pat Mallory, Mae’s 16 -year old daughter also took on an active role in the Workers World Party and the Monroe Defense Committee to free her mother.
My parents married in 1962 at the height of Mallory’s case. I was born in 1963, a true Trotskyist/Maoist/Black Nationalist baby.
In 1963 Mae wrote “Paula, our baby here has been on many picket lines. Her first line was when she was two weeks old.”[i]
My parents raised me within the Workers World Party. We marched the picket lines as a family for Mae in Cleveland and Monroe, we marched to desegregate the public schools, and to end a racist and unequitable society, my family marched. In 1964 Mae was extradited and we moved to Monroe to fight her sixteen to twenty-year prison sentence. My parents worked with their friend Mrs. Ethel Azalea Johnson, member of the Negroes with Guns Movement editor of the Crusader newsletter, and co-editor with my parents of the newsletter Did You Know? She called my mother daughter and I was her granddaughter. We were family. In 1965, The Monroe Defense Committee won the case and Mae moved back to Harlem with her daughter Pat and we moved to Brooklyn New York. Because of the constant FBI surveillance and harassment, my father left the world of protest to work as a security analyst on Wall Street. My mother and I attended Workers World and Youth Against War and Fascism meetings, joined The Back Panthers and marched in picket lines to protest the Vietnam War, and South African apartheid. We marched in support of migrant farmworkers, and many other worthy causes.
As a family, we had a wonderful time in Brooklyn. When I was two years old we lived on Lincoln Road and then moved to Ebbetts Field 220 Montgomery Street 8A when I was about 3 or 4. It was an exciting place to live, Curley one of the Harlem Globetrotters brother who looked just like him lived in our building!!! As a family when I was a little girl we went to the beach, to the museums, to Broadway and off Broadway shows. In Prospect Park we went bicycle riding, flew our kites, went to Eeyore’s Birthday, played in the streams and skipped rocks. My mother loved the Botanical Gardens so went to the Brooklyn Botanical Gardens all the time, especially on Mother’s Day and Easter to promenade me in itchy crinoline skirted dresses, white gloves and kerchiefs, hat, and patent and leather shoes, most certainly white. At the Garden, we watched other the families at the beautifully attired. In our apartment 8A we played 45’s and danced and sang to the latest music- “Up up and away in my beautiful balloon.” We spent time with our friends from Workers World and beyond.
My mother and I visited Pat and Mae almost every weekend. We rode the train from Brooklyn to Harlem where the tracks were elevated and outside to visit them in their tall apartment building in the projects. Sometimes we would go, just the two of us and sometimes my childhood friend would go too. Pat and Mae would drape us in beautiful African fabrics, pile elaborate gele head wraps high on our heads, and we would dance to the music of the day. While other families had photographs of Martin Luther King Jr., or John F. Kennedy on their walls, in our apartments we prominently displayed a photograph of Malcolm X. While visiting Pat and Mae sometimes we went to the Liberation Bookstore in Harlem to look around and buy Afrocentric books and coloring books. My parents divorced after ten years and we still had fun, we still marched on the picket lines and enjoyed our lives.
Disappointed with the outcomes of the civil rights movement and legislation that left the poor and working class behind, in the 1970s and 1980s, Mae Mallory, her daughter Pat Mallory, and my mother joined international revolutionary movements in Tanzania, Grenada, and Nicaragua. In the 1970s Mallory and Pat worked in the Tanzanian government for five years.
I will never forget going with my mother and a lot of people to see Pat and Mae Mallory off at the airport when they left for Tanzania to work in a country dedicated to African socialism. I remember the excitement of the event. I remember when they returned from Tanzania, waiting at the terminal gate for their arrival. These were the times when you could meet your passenger at the gate. I remember the walls being so bright white. I remember the utter excitement when they got off the plane and we took them home. They gave me treasured gifts, a wooden carved tea set, tea pot, tea saucers and cups, that sat on a beautiful wooden tray, just the right size for my tiny hands. They also gave me a doll in African attire.
My magically inspirational mother, went to Grenada and Nicaragua in the 1980s and actively participated in these Marxist/Socialist Revolutions. When my mother went to Grenada I was in college majoring in dance, when she went to Nicaragua I had graduated and was dancing professionally.
My mother, Pat and Mae connected the fight for African American civil rights to Tanzanian Independence and the Grenadian and Nicaraguan Revolutions.
I did not know as a child the circumstances brought the Seniors and the Mallory’s together as a family, I just knew that we were. I did not know that my life experience as a Trotskyist/Maoist/Black Nationalist daughter, my feisty mother’s daughter was any different than anyone else’s life until I became friends with Dr. Carole Boyce Davies and Dr. Gloria Dickinson.
How Did the Book come about?
In 2003 after graduating with a PhD in Ethnic Studies from University of California, San Diego I joined the faculty at Florida Memorial College teaching African American history. While there I met, and became fast friends Dr. Carole Boyce Davies then the chair of the African and African Diaspora Studies Department at Florida International University. Over the course of our friendship, I told her about my mother’s connection to Pat and Mae as family and my mothers’ membership in the Monroe Defense Committee. I told her of our membership in the Workers World Party and the Black Panther Party, our participation in protests, and my mothers’ travels to Grenada and Nicaragua, as well as her travels to Namibia as an observer for their free election from Apartheid South Africa. I told Carole about my upbringing. She insisted that my mother’s life was quite extraordinary, and that my childhood was not an ordinary one. She insisted that I must write about my mother. I had a similar conversation with Dr. Gloria Harper Dickinson and she too pushed me, and told me that that I must tell this story, that it was not the typical family history. Carole and Gloria have been the driving force behind this book. Carole has read every single draft and offered suggestions. Gloria died to soon and blazes across the Heavens.
I grappled with how to tell the story and decided that the best way was to tell my mother’s story was as refracted through Mae Mallory’s life. I was still suffering from the insurmountable sting of my mothers’ death when I began this book. Thus, I began to conduct historical archival research by visiting the archives- The Schomburg Center for Research in Black Culture, UNC Chapel Hill, UNC Greensboro, Tulane University, The New Orleans Public Library, University of Tennessee Knoxville, The Highlander Folk School, Duke University, University of Michigan, and Reuther Labor Library at Wayne State University, and Louisiana State University.
I began to give talks- National Council for Black Studies, The Association for the Study of African American Life and History, The International Black Power Symposium at Sarah Lawrence, The Virginia Foundation for the Humanities, The Left Forum, The Association for the Study of the Worldwide African Diaspora; The Association for African American Historical Research and Preservation; The Caribbean Studies Association; Rupture, Repression and Uprising, The African American Studies & Research Program at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign; and The University of the West Indies, Trinidad and Tobago.
In 2010 Master’s candidate Yie Yin Foong contacted me as she was writing her masters’ thesis on Mae Mallory and she was the first scholar to obtain Mae Mallory’s FBI files and to interview Pat Mallory. She wanted some advice and suggestions. We met at The International Black Power Symposium at Sarah Lawrence College where I was on a panel arranged by Carole Boyce Davies giving a talk about Mae and my mother. At the panel, knowing that the Seniors and Mallory families were bound, Yie wanted me to reveal this to the audience, so she asked what my relationship was to Mae and Audrey Proctor. It was there that I revealed that these women were family members. As academic we are taught to write critically and analytically, so I muted my relationships to my mother and Mae in the book and my talks. Yie Yin Foong compelled me to reassess this. Carole Boyce Davies had always suggested that I write this story and embrace my relationship to it and gave me strategies. I am no longer writing from a distance, I have enveloped myself within the narrative and am fully embracing the legacy my mother left me.
Paula Marie Seniors
[i] From Mae Mallory to Dearest Friends, May 18, 1963, Mae Mallory Collection 1963 Correspondence 1-2, Reuther Labor Library, Wayne State University.
Copyright by Paula Marie Seniors. All Rights Reserved.