Saturday, February 16, 2013

"The Americans," Episode 3, "Gregory"

In the episode, we discover that Elizabeth has engaged in a long-standing affair with Gregory, an African-American man she recruited into the KGB in the 1960s.  He tells Philip that she recruited him at an SCLC meeting in Chicago during Martin Luther King’s campaign in the Second City.  SCLC stands for the Southern Christian Leadership Conference, King’s organization of Southern ministers.  Having defeated de jure segregation in the South with the passage of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 and Voting Rights Act of 1965, King and SCLC left their traditional base in the south in 1966 and moved north to Chicago to battle the problem of de facto segregation. 

The Chicago campaign focused on opening up housing for blacks outside of the city’s ghetto neighborhoods on the south and west side.  Lacking a clear enemy like Bull Connor in Birmingham or Jim Clark in Selma, King was outmaneuvered by Mayor Richard J. Daley and couldn’t generate the same national support he had in campaigns in the Deep South.   Eventually, King negotiated a symbolic agreement with Daley regarding housing and left in defeat.  After seeing the intense bigotry of working-class whites in the North, he became much more pessimistic about the possibility of overcoming racism in America.

The Gregory character also illustrates how American racism made communism attractive to a small number of blacks.  In the 1930s, the American Communist Party gained prestige in the African American community because of its strong defense of the Scottsboro Boys, a group of black teenagers accused of raping white women on a train in Alabama.  At various times, prominent black Americans joined the party, including Paul Robeson, Bayard Rustin, and W.E.B. Du Bois.   Some, like Rustin, left because they didn’t believe the party’s commitment to racial justice was genuine.

With her relationship with Philip now resembling more of a real marriage, Elizabeth ended the affair with Gregory.  Meanwhile, the KGB moved closer to getting their hands on the plans for “Star Wars.” 


  1. I live in Berlin (Germany). Angela Davis and Paul Robeson are pretty much remembered around the former Communist parts of this city (Paul Robeson street is actually not far from my home...). Ironically, while I don't think it is easy to be a person of colour in Germany in general, it is probably more difficult in the former East.

  2. Interesting. I was in Berlin many years ago and there was a Citibank right on Robeson Street. Out of curiosity, how did you find my blog?

  3. I was desperately googling for more info on the references on this episode regarding the student/civil rights movement... Thanks, you're now on my Google Reader (soon to be Feedly) list of blogs