Peery, Nelson 1923–

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Peery, Nelson 1923–


Born June 22, 1923, in St. Joseph, MO; son of Ben (a railroad mail clerk) and Caroline Peery; married Sue Ying Ho, May 21, 1960; children: Patrice, Steven. Education: Attended University of Minnesota—Twin Cities. Politics: "Left."


Home—Chicago, IL.


Writer. Worked as a bricklayer and functionary in leftist organizations. Founding member of the League of Revolutionaries for a New America. Military service: U.S. Army, Combat Infantry, 1942-46; received three battle stars.


The Negro National Colonial Question, Workers Press (Chicago, IL), 1975.

African American Liberation and Revolution in the United States, Workers Press (Chicago, IL), 1992.

Black Fire (autobiography), New Press (New York, NY), 1993.

Moving Onward: From Racial Division to Class Unity, People's Tribune Speakers Bureau (Chicago, IL), 2000.

The Future Is up to Us: A Revolutionary Talking Politics with the American People, People's Tribune Speakers Bureau (Chicago, IL), 2002.

Black Radical: The Education of an American Revolutionary (autobiography), New Press/W.W. Norton (New York, NY), 2007.


Nelson Peery was a soldier in an all-black unit in World War II. Peery returned home from the war as a hero, only to be treated as a second-class citizen. Peery's experiences shaped his views of America and of equality. Indeed, he staunchly believed that communism would bring about racial equality in the United States. Peery traces these early experiences in his autobiography Black Fire, which was published in 1993. Fourteen years later, Peery published a follow-up biography, Black Radical: The Education of an American Revolutionary. The book details Peery's membership in the Communist Party. Tracing his experiences as he works his way up to party organizer, Peery ultimately shares that he quit the party when they decided to focus more on economic than social equality, basically choosing to ignore the issue of race. Critics noted the unique perspective that Peery brings to the civil rights movement. For instance, Washington Post Book World reviewer Jabari Asim stated: "Although Peery doesn't spare himself, he reserves his harshest judgment not for his shortsighted white comrades but for his black contemporaries who chose other forms of resistance." San Francisco Bay Guardian critic Matilda Bernstein Sycamore also commented on Peery's point of view. Sycamore observed: "Peery's dedication to the Communist Party, which he likens to his commitment to his army division during the war, is sometimes stunning when juxtaposed to the organization's systemic racism." Nevertheless, Sycamore applauded the book's "anecdotes," which "lend emotional depth to Peery's revolutionary rhetoric."

Peery once told CA: "The primary purpose for writing Black Fire was to show that revolutionaries are ‘made in America’ by actual conditions. The secondary purpose was to show the lot of the black soldier in World War II. I think it is important that young people understand America from a generational view. Everything they have now was fought and bled for. They must understand this or they will lose what they have. In addition, the American people must realize that our country matured in revolution and civil war. Revolutionaries are the patriots; the Joe McCarthys are the traitors."



Peery, Nelson, Black Fire, New Press (New York, NY), 1993.

Peery, Nelson, Black Radical: The Education of an American Revolutionary, New Press/W.W. Norton (New York, NY), 2007.


Black Issues in Higher Education, February 8, 1996, "At War, Home and Abroad," p. 28.

Kirkus Reviews, July 1, 2007, review of Black Radical: The Education of an American Revolutionary.

Monthly Review, February 1, 1995, Annette T. Rubinstein, review of Black Radical, p. 39.

Publishers Weekly, February 14, 1994, review of Black Fire, p. 72; June 4, 2007, review of Black Radical, p. 45.

Reference & Research Book News, November 1, 2007, review of Black Radical.

San Francisco Bay Guardian, September 19, 2007, Matilda Bernstein Sycamore, review of Black Radical.

Washington Post Book World, August 26, 2007, Jabari Asim, review of Black Radical.