My friend and comrade Oneil Cannon, former Los Angeles County Chairperson of the Communist Party USA, has passed on. One of the grand old men of the L.A. left, the best reminiscence I have of him is totally apolitical: back in the early 80s he gave me one of his collard green plants which I transplanted to where I then lived in Silverlake and taught me his collard recipe. Something I’ve never told anybody on the political front though, as a loyal union printer, he counterfeited 1,500 corporate proxies to prevent the police from ejecting union picketers at the scene of a corporate shareholders’ meeting during a strike and corporate campaign on behalf of the Graphic Communications International Union, District Council 2 (now part of the Teamsters). It was a tremendous act of civil disobedience!
From the family’s Facebook event page:
ONEIL MARION CANNON
January 28, 1917 – January 20, 2017
• Oneil Cannon died in his sleep at 12:20 a.m., the last morning of President Barak Obama’s Administration. He was wearing one of his Obama T-Shirts at the time.
* Oneil Cannon was known to activists as the union printer to the left. His print shop, Fidelity Educational Press printed leaflets, journals and brochures for community organizations, political campaigns and churches especially those looking for a “Union Printer”
• In 1985 he co founded the Paul Robeson Community Center, a multi-racial Community Center in South Los Angeles, whose mission is inter-racial and inter-cultural understanding through education.
• Fought along with his wife, Adele, to bring equal education to South Los Angeles, including the multi year struggle to bring a Junior College to South Los Angeles, which culminated in the establishment of Southwest Community College, which held its first classes 50 years ago, in 1967.
• Born in Plaquemines Parish, Louisiana, on January 28, 1917, son of a minister and Great Grandson to Salina Eggerson, a slave and her Irish slave-owner, Charlie Cannon. Having lived 100 years, he was a living link to the past. He remembered being visited by this iconoclastic former slave-owner/great grandfather, who regularly brought Oneil and his siblings candy and little gifts 44 years after the end of slavery.
• As a young insurance agent in New Orleans, joined a left union, the UOPWA – the United Office of Professional Workers of America, when it began organizing insurance agents in New Orleans. There he began meeting Longshoremen and other left Union members, who all went to the same meetings and supported each other. Ultimately, his boss fired everyone associated with the union, who said that “Universal Life is not going to be coerced by a bunch of communists.” which was the first, but far from the last time that he would hear the term “communist” being used to justify the firing or isolation of people active in the movement for social change.
• He also got to know students at Tulane and Dillard University (sometimes called the “Red Schoolhouse” because some of the leading people there were “left” and also because Black and White students used to associate there together – which in the late 30’s and early 40’s was unheard of – and against the law. At one point they were all arrested, not because of communist activity, but because they were violating the miscegenation laws which outlawed Blacks and whites from being together anywhere.
• After World War II, he moved to Los Angeles, and brought his wife Elizabeth and children, in order to, as he put it “leave the stranglehold of discrimination and racism in the south”, to join most of his sisters and brothers who also migrated to L.A. after the war.
• In 1955 he married a Jewish fellow activist, Adele Rosenfield Goodman Cannon. As an interracial couple they continued to support each other in their fight for justice for the next 54 years.
• He “broke the color line” in the Printing Industry by fighting along with Progressive white trade unionists to become the first African American member of the Printer’s Union in Los Angeles.
• Although he became a member of the printers’ union in the early 1950’s, never-the-less, he was unable to find work because the printing industry remained segregated—thus he founded his own company: Distinctive Press, later to become Fidelity Educational Press.
• He learned printing at Frank Wiggins Trade School, the predecessor to Los Angeles Trade Technical College and sometimes worked for Charlotta Bass, the publisher of THE CALIFORNIA EAGLE, the progressive Black newspaper. He also started his first print shop in the basement of the EAGLE, but moved elsewhere as his business grew. [Charlotta Bass ran for Vice President on the Progressive Party ticket with Vincent Hallinan in 1952; my parents voted for them–Jan Tucker]
• He taught printing to generations of printers, including at “S.T.E.P.” one of the “(Anti) Poverty Programs in South Los Angeles.
• As part of the South East Inter Racial Council, he fought to
o Bring “Negro History Week” into the L.A. City Schools;
o End segregated housing and restrictive covenants, including guarding the homes of pioneering Black families when they moved into formerly all white enclaves, and picketing stores and banks demanding that they hire African and Mexican Americans.
• Became a member of the Communist Party U.S.A. and became the Educational Director of Southern California, and a member of the Southern California and National Central Committees of same.
• Fought as part of the Independent Progressive Party (IPP) to
o Force employers to hire African and Mexican Americans where the slogan was “Don’t bank or buy where you can’t work!”
o Put Henry Wallace and the Independent Progressive Party (IPP) on the Ballot in the late 1940’s
o Elect Blacks and Latino representatives at all levels of government.
• Counted among his friends many leaders and later elected officials of the African-American community. Paul Robeson was one of these valued friends, Oneil would see Paul whenever he came to Los Angeles.
• Was friends with and helped elect numerous representatives of Color to political office in Los Angeles, including Augustus “Gus” Hawkins, Tom Bradley, Ed Roybal, Diane Watson, Maxine Waters and Karen Bass.
• Fought to free the Rosenbergs and later Angela Davis.
• Demonstrated against the wars in Vietnam and continued to fight for Middle East peace.
• Campaigned to elect President Obama in 2008, and wept with joy along with thousands of others when Obama was elected. He died peacefully in his sleep, wearing one of his Obama tee shirts.
• He is survived by his 107 year old sister, Vera Bullen, his four Children: Lloyd Cannon (Jeannette), Lorraine Lockett (William), Brenda Marshall, Denese Lewis (Ray) and two step-children Dale Goodman and Jan Goodman (Jerry Manpearl) and his many grandchildren, great grandchildren, nieces and nephews as well as his many, many friends and admirers.
• Please, no flowers. Donations to two of his favorite organizations, would have pleased him greatly and would be greatly appreciated: KPFK Radio (kpfk.org or 3729 Cahuenga Blvd., Los Angeles, CA 91604 or to Interfaith Communities United for Justice and Peace (ICUJP) www.icujp.org in his honor.
• A Celebration of his life is being planned for his 100th Birthday on January 28, 2017 at 2:30 pm in Santa Monica, CA. Please accept the Facebook invitation if you are planning on coming, or RSVP to OneilCannon@gmail.com so that we can plan accordingly
A Comment from Clyde Kuhn:
I’m sure other Peace and Freedom candidates will remember Oneil (and Adele and their close friends Admiral and Dawn Dawson) for their strong and unwavering support of their campaigns, in addition to simply being the good and decent people that they were. There could be found no finer examples of the old Left in our time.
In fond memory, and with best wishes for his (their) survivors,
Clyde Kuhn, P&F Lieutenant Governor candidate, 1982, 1986 and 1990.
A comment from Jim Smith
Name: Jim Smith
Comment: I am proud to count Oneil and his late wife and comrade, Adele, as friends. Oneil was a stalwart member of the Communist Party and the Peace and Freedom Party, but he was never dogmatic. He was often critical, mostly in private, of some policies of both groups. But that did not keep him from being a constant fighter for socialism and for an end to racial and national oppression.
Oneil’s print shop, Fidelity Educational Press, had a “political rate” that enabled many poor peoples organizations to get their message printed. When I was arrested and convicted of civil disobedience on behalf of a supermarket strike, Oneil let me serve my community service sentence in his print shop.
A short remembrance of Oneil’s life cannot do justice to his years of activity. Oneil packed 200 years of activism into his 100 years of life.