California Revisited - 1941-1942

A timeworn Agnes Smedley, now forty-nine years old, arrived penniless in Los Angeles in late May of 1941, wondering how she would be received by people she had not seen for seven years. In seeking a place to stay she had written to her ex-husband Ernest Brundin and his wife Elinor in the Los Angeles suburb of Montabello. She had maintained sporadic contact with them while in China, most recently to solicit funds for the Chinese Red Cross, and they agreed to put her up. For Elinor Brundin, Smedley's two-week stay was uncomfortable but revealing. While making arrangements for her next move, Smedley tried to be a good house guest. She helped with the daily chores and entertained the Brundins and their children with stories of her experiences with the Chinese guerrillas. But she also threw a tantrum that amazed and enlightened Elinor.*
(*When the Brundins' family doctor prescribed a vitamin shot for Agnes's fatigue and back pain, Smedley agreed until she saw the needle. Then she panicked,'first groaning, then doubling up in fright and shouting. Elinor was dumbfounded. Could this be the same woman she had seen in photographs from China, personally tending the wounded? Embarrassed and ashamed, Elinor fully understood Ernest's reaction thirty years earlier, when Smedley had acted the same way on a streetcar (Interview with Elinor Brundin).)
Smedley must have felt great stress about returning to America. Except for a brief visit in 1934, she had been out of the country for twenty-one years. Now, in 1941, she had reason to fear that her left-wing friends from those years—especially the Communist ideologues she had known in New York—would reject her. Her strident ideology of the early 1930s had been crucially modified. For this reason, no doubt, she sought help from Julian Gumperz, the man who had translated Daughter of Earth for her in Germany. Gumperz (who had retained his original United States citizenship) had become a successful financier in New York. Though now politically inactive and disillusioned with the Communist Party in the United States and abroad, he remained a generous friend to his acquaintances formerly on the political left. He had always admired Smedley for her honesty, idealism, and courage. And so when Smedley wrote to him in May of 1941 that she wanted to write a book that would tell the American people, in flesh-and-blood terms, what the Chinese people were doing to resist the invasion by a fascist Japan, he understood. He became Smedley's chief »angel«, the man who contributed much of the money Smedley needed to continue working on her book about China.[1]
To raise additional funds, Smedley lined up speaking engagements in southern California. Her credentials as a journalist with established newspapers such as the pre-Nazi Frankfurter Zeitung and her unique experiences as a woman war correspondent for the Manchester Guardian made her a marketable speaker and good press copy. Fortunately for her, the international situation in 1941 tended to overshadow her past political stands and gave her a chance to redefine her personal beliefs.
During the summer of 1941, public attention was being focused on the crisis brewing in the Far East. Events earlier in the year had forced President Roosevelt to reexamine his China policy, which had been to give evenhanded support to both the Guomindang government and the Communists, as the most effective strategy for tying down the Japanese.
Before 1940, Chiang Kai-shek's desire to move against the Communists in Yan-an had been held in check by the fact that his government, and not Mao Zedong's movement, was receiving almost all the military aid being sent from the Soviet Union. Stalin had shared Roosevelt's belief that keeping Tokyo's forces bogged down in China was the best way to deter Japanese expansion: and he had more faith in the ability of the Nationalists to accomplish this than he had in the peasant-based Communists, over whom he was not confident of control. Precisely because of Stalin's support, Chiang had been hesitant to move against Yan'an.
But with the increasing German threat to Russia in 1940, Stalin was forced to reduce Soviet aid to Chiang. The Americans quickly stepped into the vacuum. Although Roosevelt and his advisers wanted to prevent civil war and opposed the idea of encouraging Chiang to move against Yan'an, they felt obliged to offer Chiang aid in response to the recent military alliance between Germany and Japan. The need for this decision was reinforced in November of 1940, when Tokyo recognized Wang Jingwei's regime as the »true government of China«. Within days of Tokyo's recognition of Wang's puppet regime, Roosevelt pushed through Congress a one-hundred-million-dollar loan to China. And it was just weeks after the loan was negotiated that Chiang's generals attacked and destroyed units of the Communist-led New Fourth Army south of the Yangzi River.
Realizing that civil war in China would free troops for a major Japanese push into Southeast Asia, Washington was anxious to see the united front patched up. In an attempt to force reform, pressure was applied on Chiang to democratize his regime, wipe out corruption, and quit fighting the Communists. With the cooperation of Time-Life publisher Henry Luce, Chiang was popularized in the American press and encouraged to promote a sort of New Deal in China. Roosevelt wanted to blunt the political appeal of the extreme left within China, so that when the war was over America would have China, the greatest power in Asia, as a friendly ally. To further strengthen Chiang's hand, the administration urged its friends abroad to treat the Nationalist regime as a »Great Power«.[2]
On the other hand, though few in Roosevelt's administration thought the Chinese Communists' peasant army was worthy of support, selling a patched-up united front to the American public required polishing the image of the Communists. The problem was that probably no more than twenty non-Communists in America had much familiarity with the Chinese Communists. These few included military men—Evans Carlson, Joseph Stilwell, Frank Dorn—and journalists such as Edgar Snow. One of the very few persons now in the United States who had real up-to-date contact was Agnes Smedley. Therefore her initial appearances in southern California were opportune and welcome to a variety of political circles. In her talks, she effectively projected an image of a working alliance between the Chinese Communists and Nationalists as they waged war against a common Japanese enemy.[3]
Smedley's first major engagement was a dinner speech at the faculty club of Pomona College. She was extremely nervous. Ernest Brundin and Elinor drove her there, to provide moral support. During the drive, according to Elinor, Smedley doubled up on the back seat and began to moan and »carry on«, claiming she was too ill to give the talk. The Brundins were amazed: despite years of speaking experience in Germany and China, she seemed genuinely terrified of facing an American
academic audience. When they arrived, Smedley sent the Brundins into town to find sandwiches and asked them to wait outside while she spoke.
Once inside the faculty club, Smedley gave an impassioned speech. She urged the United States to stop supplying the Japanese with war materials. She described the situation she had just left in Hong Kong and warned that someday soon the United States would be forced to confront the Japanese head-on. When she finished with an emotional plea for more American support for the heroic Chinese, who were already fighting the good fight, the response was enthusiastic.
When Smedley emerged from the faculty club, quite late, and climbed into the car with the waiting Brundins, she was transformed, recited limericks, told off-color jokes, and sang cowboy ballads and Chinese army songs. Then, sometime after midnight, the car ran out of gas on a lonely stretch of road. Smedley was immediately indignant. She called Ernest stupid for having let them run out of gas and demanded that he find a way to call a taxi right away, so the triumph of the evening would not be ruined. But Ernest stoically left the car and walked down the road with Elinor to find gas. It was the second time in one evening that Elinor had witnessed a tantrum by Agnes. She marveled at Smedley's heightened sense of emotion and her ability to squeeze every ounce of drama out of a situation. She also understood, at last, why Smedley's temperament had always made anything more than a friendship with Ernest impossible.[4]
A few days after the Pomona speech, Smedley left the Brundins to visit her sister Myrtle and her brother Sam in Chula Vista, near San Diego. Her arrival was greeted by a story in the San Diego Union on June 11 which announced the presence in the city of one of six foreigners who was on Japan's »most wanted« political enemies list. The story helped to stimulate interest in a series of talks Smedley proceeded to give around town.[5]
On June 22, Germany invaded Russia and President Roosevelt was quick to send aid to the Soviet Union. In July, after signing a mutual assistance pact in Moscow barring each nation from making a separate peace with Germany, British and Russian forces jointly occupied Iran to stop German expansion. Thus, overnight Soviet Russia became an ally of the West. In public, therefore, Smedley felt that for the sake of the Chinese cause and the war effort she had to refrain from strong criticism of Soviet policies, which had contributed to the ambush of her beloved New Fourth Army, and, earlier, to the disappearance of Chatto-padhyaya in Leningrad during Stalin's purges.
On July 24, Japan began its occupation of French Indo-China. Two days later, President Roosevelt froze all Japanese assets in the United States, which brought Japanese-American trade to a halt and cut off Japan's major source of petroleum. He also nationalized the armed forces of the Philippines and placed them under the command of General Mac-Arthur. Americans of all political persuasions were beginning to accept the idea that a strong and united China was the key to protecting American interests in Asia generally. After this time, when questioned about fighting between Chinese Nationalists and Communists, Smedley answered by saying she was sure that the Japanese invasion had given them both reason enough to be united for quite a while.
At talks Smedley was frequently harassed by American Communist Party members who considered her too generous in her treatment of President Roosevelt and the Guomindang. In a July 24 letter to Malcolm Cowley she responded angrily:

I was dumbfounded at the Communist Press before the U.S.S.R. was attacked. In a series of small audiences where I spoke just after I landed, Communists challenged my knowledge by stating that Roosevelt had ordered the Chinese government to wipe out the Communist armies, otherwise they could not get the American loan! That was a lie... Time and again in my small lectures Communists came up to me, pointed a ringer at me, and called Roosevelt a dozen kinds of names... Of course, I have not been sitting in New York in Party headquarters, dispensing wisdom. I have only been at the Chinese fronts and in the enemy rear, and in Chongqing...
The truth is that the Chinese Communist Party represents the most democratic force in China, that they fight for their country and people, that they have considered any peace talks [with Japan] as national treason. But they are not the only progressive force, and their armies are not the only fighting armies of China. I used to think that they were. I support them for their social policy — bringing China out of feudalism to elementary democracy. [This] viewpoint infuriates the American Communist Party for they have the theory that once you refuse to follow their Party line, you go right over into the ranks of the moneylenders. But I am what I always was — a real American democrat of the original brand of democracy, yet demanding that it be extended to economic democracy. I will watch and study the American Communist Party program, sympathize with any progressive thinking they undertake, any line which seems to me the right one. My mind may not be the right kind of mind, but it is all I have to go by, and I have not yet been convinced that it can be handed over to the Party to play with as they wish.

But Smedley still found that she had friends on the unorganized political left in California. In the San Diego area, though she visited her sister and brother in Chula Vista, Smedley lodged with Harry Steinmetz, an activist and professor at San Diego State College, with whom she had enjoyed a political relationship for several years. Steinmetz had first met Agnes during the summer of 1934 when he heard her speak at the Labor Temple on the situation in Shanghai and Guangzhou. Afterward he introduced himself and invited her home for further discussion, and there she met Steinmetz's father (Harry H. Steinmetz), a doctor of medicine and a ham radio operator. Smedley quickly developed a special relationship with the two men, and when she returned to China she began to send news stories and other messages from Shanghai to America via the Steinmetzes, through a circuitous route. First she would give what she wanted transmitted to an American doctor in Shanghai, a thyroid specialist by the name of Miller. He in turn would give it to a banker friend, who sent it either by messenger or air mail to Manila; from there it was transmitted to San Diego by ham radio. Harry Steinmetz recalled in 1976 that most of the messages were about Guomin-dang Blueshirt activities and police crackdowns in Shanghai. In 1938 and 1939 Smedley successfully solicited medical aid for the New Fourth Army from the San Diego area, using this system.*
(* Harry Steinmetz noted her increased self-confidence and a generally more relaxed, less frantic approach to politics in the 1940s. In 1934 she had been strident in her belief that Depression conditions made it imperative for all workers to join the American Communist Party. In 1941 there was no such talk, and she had little to say about the Soviet Union. Her focus was the need to aid China, and in particular the Chinese Communists, whom she carefully compared to Tito's partisans in Yugoslavia)
Harry Steinmetz was an independent leftist who preferred to stay outside the Party, sometimes joining movements and activities supported by the American Communist Party and sometimes opposing the Party line. He recalled Smedley's hostility to the idea of submitting to party discipline and her unkind words for the U.S. party's leadership. He was also convinced that Smedley was in love with Evans Carlson and had strong hopes for a future relationship with him. He recalled being present at one of their meetings in San Diego, and he knew that they wrote to each other frequently.
Carlson had been a close friend of Smedley's since 1937 when he arrived as a Marine Intelligence Officer at Zhu De's Eighth Route Army headquarters with a letter of introduction from Edgar Snow. Carlson, a devoutly religious man, had shocked his superiors with reports not only that the Communists were fighting a war of liberation but that their conduct toward the people was »truly Christian«. Warned by the navy that if he said another word in this vein he would be court-martialed, Carlson resigned in 1938. He wrote a book about his experiences, Twin Stars over China (1939), and lectured across America with Walter Judd and others urging U.S. opposition to Japanese expansion in the Pacific. On the eve of Pearl Harbor, most likely through his connection to President Roosevelt (he had been F.D.R.'s bodyguard), Carlson reenlisted in the Marines to form an experimental batallion of volunteers to be trained in the techniques of guerrilla warfare on the model of Zhu De's guerrilla units in north China. One of »Carlson's Raiders« was Roosevelt's son Jimmy. The military were reluctant to allow Carlson to implement his unorthodox method of using political indoctrination in the ideals of democracy as a key component of military strategy, but in 1941, he had the political backing of the president for his experiment. Smedley would later incorporate many of Carlson's ideas into her talks for U.S. military personnel, since many of his criticisms were similar to her own. As he wrote to Smedley in 1943:

There were two factors which modern military leaders do not seem to understand or prefer to ignore. One, comfort and personal convenience are not consonant with the conduct of military-naval operations against an alert and tenacious enemy; two, men are inspired to fight with all that is within them only by leadership based on merit, a profound knowledge of the reasons they fight, and the conviction that the things for which they fight are worth fighting for. We will win because of our economic strength, but the sacrifice in men and treasure will be out of proportion to our effort and far beyond what it would be if we as a nation had learned that there is no smooth road to freedom.[6]

On August 14, President Roosevelt and British Prime Minister Churchill issued the Atlantic Charter, a joint statement of principles formulating the broad postwar aims of the two countries. The third point supported the right of peoples to choose their own form of government. On September 24 it was announced that fifteen anti-Axis nations, including the Soviet Union, had endorsed the Atlantic Charter.
Roosevelt seemed convinced at the time that this war would unleash nationalism in Asia and bring an end to colonialism. The right to colonize, of course, was at the heart of the dispute with the Japanese, who argued that they were a new world power who, because of racism, were being denied their legitimate right to colonize. Japan claimed the right to take over French Indochina in order to liberate the people there from the white men's rule. In Roosevelt's vision of a postwar world, economic competition and cooperation would replace colonialism. He obviously viewed the Atlantic Charter as a tool to undercut racist Japanese propaganda and encourage nationalist forces to stop Japanese expansion, anaim not shared by Churchill. Smedley was impressed by Roosevelt's anticolonial rhetoric and had been convinced by such prominent Englishmen as the ambassador to China, Clark Kerr, that many of his countrymen had accepted the end of colonialism as inevitable.
Given her past antagonism toward most Englishmen, it is ironic that introductions from Anglican clergymen in Hong Kong to Anglican clergy in Los Angeles were among the most helpful in obtaining speaking engagements for Smedley in the United States. In September, Bishop Ronald Hall himself arrived from Hong Kong, and he and Smedley toured together as a twin billing in the Los Angeles area.
Smedley and Hall became part of the broad coalition of political, church, business, academic, and media people who formed the Los Angeles Committee to Support China. In addition to clergymen, the group included Alfred Hitchcock, Senator Robert W. Kenny, editor Carey Williams, and Sir Cedric Hardwick. With handbills and advertisements proclaiming »China Fights on for Democracy«, the Committee booked Bishop Hall and Smedley into the Philharmonic Auditorium on September 29. Advertisements promised that the audience would hear firsthand accounts of how China was fighting back in a »struggle to the death« against the »Japanese devils«. By September, Smedley was arguing that the United States should declare war on all the Axis powers, including Japan.[7] Throughout October and November of 1941, Smedley continued to lecture under the auspices of the Committee. At the same time she began to organize her notes and articles and outline the book she was planning.
Steinmetz, who had already found temporary housing for Smedley on Selma Street in Hollywood, now introduced her to Gladys Caldwell, a public librarian in Los Angeles, who had the ideal place for Smedley: a summer cottage in Ojai, California, in the mountains just east of Santa Barbara. Recognizing that Smedley needed peace and isolation in order to write her book, Caldwell offered her the cottage. By November, Smedley had received a small advance from Alfred Knopf. This, she thought, along with the contribution from Gumperz, would free her from the need to take on more speaking engagements. She now desperately wanted to finish her book.[8]
But at this point Smedley, like everyone else, was overtaken by events in the Pacific. On November 29, the Japanese premier asserted that British and American influence must be eliminated from Asia. Then on December 7, the Japanese stunned the nation with their attack on Pearl Harbor. Smedley was in San Diego at the time to give a talk. In sketchy diary entries she noted that the city was blacked out and she had helped patrol the streets; and that there were rumors that fifty Japanese planes had been seen flying over San Francisco. On December 8, Smedley spoke before a Town Hall meeting in Los Angeles and outlined the situation in China. On December 10, she spoke for two hours to the local Foreign Trade Association, chiding the businessmen for having »armed and equipped« Japan. She noted that the Japanese were beginning their attack on Hong Kong and landing in the Philippines. In her last available diary entry, December 16, she indicated that Warner Brothers had approached her about a film and that she was going to be on the radio on December 29 to speak on behalf of the Fight for Freedom Committee.[9]
In her speeches Smedley continued to hit hard. She pointed out why the Japanese were so quickly chalking up victories in Southeast Asia and why in some places they were being welcomed as liberators: »The canker at the heart of our civilization is being exposed. This canker is the assumption that white people are superior and are destined to rule the colored races. The Japanese are smashing that conviction—drowning it in our own blood, while appealing to subjected Asiatic people to grasp this historic opportunity to drive out the white man«.[10]
She pointed out that the Burmese, for example, were actively helping the Japanese in order to rid themselves of white men's rule. She also cited the infamous case of a popular Bengali nationalist and former mayor of Calcutta, Subas Chandra Bose. As an advocate of a free India since before World War I, Bose had been imprisoned several times by the British and had finally turned to Japan for help. Smedley, who had known Bose, pointed out that he had a large following in Bengal, which borders Burma, thus making it vulnerable—perhaps the next domino to fall after the Japanese conquest of Burma. Smedley was careful to explain, however, that most Indian nationalists, Gandhi and Nehru in particular, saw nothing to be gained by exchanging British chains for Japanese ones.
Smedley concluded most of her speeches by arguing that the only effective response to Japanese propaganda appeals to race hatred was to give full support and aid to China as an equal. Britain, she contended, had brought about its own defeat in Hong Kong by its racist attitudes. By way of illustrating this, she said British officers had told her that England had refused to reach an agreement with the Chinese for a joint defense of Hong Kong for two reasons. First, Britain did not want China to have a claim after the war for the return of territory. Second, they noted that in facing China, the Japanese so far had only been fighting »a third-rate power«, and that when they faced a first-rate power in Britain they »would learn what real fighting is«. The British had been confident that they could hold Hong Kong for two or three months until their naval fleet arrived with reinforcements. In fact, Hong Kong fell after seventeen days. The lesson in this, Smedley concluded, was that the United States should accept the Chinese as equal allies. She strongly implied that neither the Nationalists nor the Communists would accept a position as an American puppet.[11]
Emotionally, Smedley was riding high. The Pacific war had put her in the spotlight, and she felt confident she could write an important book, one that could make a real impact on U.S. policy. She was in no mood, therefore, to hear a voice from her wretched Missouri childhood.
Press reports about Smedley's talks had reached Osgood, Missouri, and were noticed by her closest childhood friend, Mamie Weston. On a visit to California, Mamie tracked Smedley down by telephone. But the voice on the other end of the line said No, she didn't remember any Mamie or any exchange of watch chains in 1903 with pledges of everlasting friendship. Mamie was crushed. Smedley went on to say that she was sorry, but it was so long ago, and she had lived through so much since then, that she simply couldn't recall. And she did not want to see Mamie.[12] Smedley was still bitter about her childhood. With Daughter of Earth she thought she had buried it for good. Now full of purpose and patriotic fervor, she did not intend to let the past consume her again. Smedley was anxious to move forward, and for once the policy concerns of her government coincided with her own.
In early February of 1942, Smedley excitedly moved to Ojai to get on with her writing. It was not long before she had developed a new support system, the John Taylor family. In an interview with the Taylor family in 1975, Aino Taylor, John's wife, said her friendship with Agnes was the most intense of her life, before or since. When Smedley first came to Ojai, Aino was a housewife in her twenties, and her husband John was a schoolteacher then making $1,750 a year. Also in the household were a five-year-old daughter, Ingrid, and Aino's mother, Elviira. Elviira was a professional masseuse, and it was this fact that first led Smedley to the Taylors' door seeking relief from her back pain. For the Taylors, Smedley's love of life, hearty laughter, vitality, and intense curiosity seemed to permeate the valley. Aino's vivid memories included talks over many cups of coffee, classical music, tears over newly written chapters in Agnes's manuscript, and raucous laughter over earthy passages in the Canterbury Tales, which Smedley read and reread with delight. Aino and Agnes took long outings on borrowed bikes to a vineyard, where they bought and savored warm grapes. On Easter morning in 1942, they gathered around a small, orange-sized cantaloupe growing on a vine under an oak tree. Smedley remarked on the vitality and courage with which it had grown to maturity despite the hard, acidic soil. This, she said, was a miracle »as great as a resurrection and far more real«. She was still an enthusiastic gardener.
The Taylors remember Smedley as a twentieth-century Cassandra who proclaimed that no one—whether American, Christian, Buddhist, Hindu, or Communist—had the whole truth. What she believed in was education and, of course, getting politically involved. Smedley took Aino Taylor under her wing and continually preached that she must never allow herself to become a dull housewife with her head in a diaper pail. She was emphatic in her opinion of housewives who were indifferent to what was going on in the world, and she emphasized that it was the duty of each person to keep up with what was happening in government in order to fight for their rights. At Smedley's insistence, Aino read the Congressional Record, which Smedley herself devoured daily. Consistently cynical about men and the rich, she insisted that only pressure would wring concessions in the form of rights for the poor and women.
Aino refused to accept Agnes's view that marriage was »the root of all evil«, and Smedley could not believe that Aino did not somehow feel oppressed by her husband. But the two women agreed to disagree. John Taylor and Smedley also became good friends. John cut firewood for her, and the two had intense discussions about literature and politics. Smedley made it clear to both Taylors that it was not John she disliked, but simply the institution of marriage.
Smedley received some interesting visitors at Ojai. One was Theodore White, who was on his way to China via India and dropped in to ask Smedley for introductions to prominent Indians. More memorable from the Taylors' point of view was Smedley's reunion with Thorberg, Ernest, and Elinor Brundin, which included picnics under the nearby eucalyptus trees. Smedley had last seen Thorberg in 1934 in New York. By this time Thorberg had divorced Robert Haberman, married an Eastern European intellectual, Basil Ellison, and moved to a farm near New Paltz, New York. She had taken a train to California in the summer of 1942 in order to see her brother Ernest in Los Angeles and with him drive to Ojai to visit her former sister-in-law, Agnes. According to a 1975 interviews with Thorberg, Elinor, and the Taylors, the visit went well on the whole.*
(* Aino, however, recalled feeling as if she were in the presence of two queens competing for a place on center stage. Agnes was the »doer« and Thorberg the »intellectual«, a term Aino defined in our interview as one who talked about ideas without noticing what obviously needed doing to implement them)
Smedley at last felt unreservedly friendly toward Thorberg. Having written four books on China, plus her autobiographical novel, she had demonstrated that she was capable of doing more than starting an Indian restaurant in New York (as Thorberg had suggested to Smedley in 1924). She even fantasized with the Brundins about someday forming a cooperative farm and growing old together.
In the congenial atmosphere of Ojai, the rough draft of Battle Hymn of China rolled steadily off Smedley's typewriter. In early October of 1942 she left Ojai with the nearly completed manuscript in her suitcase and moved back to Hollywood to tie up a few loose ends before traveling to New York, where she intended to put the finishing touches on the manuscript with the help of her editor at Knopf. She was already feeling personally fulfilled, but before she left Hollywood she was excited by an event that seemed to suggest that profound changes for the better were taking place in America.
A director from Warner Brothers, interested in the film possibilities of her Battle Hymn manuscript, invited Smedley to a dinner sponsored by the C.I.O. The occasion was the christening of a new naval merchant ship, the Booker T. Washington. The ship's captain was Black, as was the chief engineer, and seamen from eighteen allied nations made up the rest of the integrated crew. At the dinner, representatives of the Ladies' Garment Workers Union gave all the members of the crew fur-lined jackets, and Jewish songwriters from Hollywood sang humorous songs. Smedley was especially delighted by a song about the Atlantic Charter. As she wrote to Aino Taylor in early October: »The Atlantic Charter song set the audience whooping until we could hardly hear the words and they had to sing it again. It told of one Franklin Roosevelt who said to Churchill, 'give me your fountain pen,' and they sat down on some stools and drew up the Atlantic Charter—with its points one, two, three and four. Everything [was] there, but it was so folk songsey that it was just short of genius... The whole tone of the evening was unrestrained; they were all working men working together«. Clearly Smedley was impressed by the progress unions had made since 1934, especially their seemingly sincere effort to break down racial barriers—an effort that seemed to be taking place even in Hollywood.
Smedley left for New York in mid-October full of optimism about America's future and her own prospects—financial stability at last, and perhaps even a film to be made from Battle Hymn. As she hastily wrote in a departing note to Aino Taylor (dated »October something or other— Monday«): »I finished my book yesterday and sent it off today. I leave Wednesday evening for New York going via Salt Lake, Omaha, Chicago, and trying to meet all my old lovers at every place the train stops. I expect mobs and mobs, and intend to tell them to organize a union and join the C.I.O«.