Skip to main content

Research Repository

Advanced Search

The Revolutionary Symbolism of Angelo Herndon- Photography, Race, and Communism in 1930s America

Haran, Barnaby



This article examines the photographic representation of Angelo Herndon, a Black Communist who was arrested in 1932 in Atlanta through seldom-used Georgian anti-insurrection legislation. Herndon (aged 19) endured many months in jail and faced 18-20 years on a chain gang for organizing an unemployment protest. Directed by the legal organisation International Labor Defense (ILD), Communist media propagandized Herndon as a revolutionary symbol of an interracial struggle against racism, worker exploitation, and Fascism. I explore the consonance of the representation of Herndon with Kenneth Burke’s contemporaneous analysis of revolutionary symbols within the auspices of the Popular Front. The article discusses photographs of Herndon as materializations of his revolutionary symbolism in terms of ‘iconization’, which Leigh Raiford defines as the dissemination of images of activists to propagate political ideas. Photographs of Herndon in Communist media counteracted images of Black abjection in ghettoes, prisons, and rural poverty yet risked abstracting him from everyday life. The article looks to Elizabeth Edwards’ discussion of the ‘performativity’ of photographs to propose that an ILD reconstruction of a chain gang cage had potential to connect the image and the audience, though this gruesome mobile display partly relied upon an aesthetic of abjection. I argue finally that Herndon’s later invisibility in Communist media indicates the contingency and provisionality of his revolutionary symbolism.


Haran, B. (in press). The Revolutionary Symbolism of Angelo Herndon- Photography, Race, and Communism in 1930s America. Oxford Art Journal, 47(2),

Journal Article Type Article
Acceptance Date Mar 10, 2024
Deposit Date Mar 19, 2024
Journal Oxford Art Journal
Print ISSN 0142-6540
Publisher Oxford University Press (OUP)
Peer Reviewed Peer Reviewed
Volume 47
Issue 2
Public URL