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Twentieth Century Radicalism in Minnesota Oral History Project: Interview with Clarence Sharp
BIOGRAPHICAL INFORMATION: Clarence Sharp was born in 1891, near Bristol, South Dakota. From German immigrant farmers and migratory workers, he learned socialist ideas, and joined the Socialist Party in 1910. He attended the South Dakota School of Agriculture at Brookings and persistently opposed U.S. involvement in World War I, true to the position taken by the Socialist Party. He worked a dairy and hog farm near Lily until 1921, when the collapse of farm prices drove him off the land. He became an organizer for A.C. Townley's National Producer Alliance, which later merged into the Farmers Union. He also joined the Communist Party. In 1923 he moved to Torrington, Wyoming, where he sold farm implements until the bottom dropped out of the wheat market in 1931. Bankrupt once again, he went to Chicago and became an organizer of the Unemployed Councils on the north side. He rose to be a district organizer rapidly. In 1932 he returned to South Dakota as the state secretary of the Communist Party. As such, he led "penny sales" against farm foreclosures, organized branches of the United Farmers League, and led demonstrations which eventually resulted in passage of the Frazier-Lemke Debt Adjustment and Refinancing Act, the corn-hog program, rural electrification, and the Agriculture Stabilization Act. During the 1940s Mr. Sharp worked for the Minnesota-Dakota Communist Party as an itinerant organizer and farm representative. He participated in the 1944 senatorial campaign in North Dakota, helping to defeat Gerald P. Nye. In the Joseph McCarthy period, he continued to anchor the Minnesota-Dakotas CP while some of the other leaders went underground, and to defend the economic security and civil rights of those accused of communist sympathies. In his retirement, he wrote widely for the progressive press, and travelled to the USSR. He was among the founders of the Minnesota Council of American-Soviet Friendship. Mr. Sharp married twice and had one daughter. At the time of the interview he was living in Minneapolis. He died on April 21, 1989. SUBJECTS DISCUSSED: Socialist Party activity in South Dakota, 1910s and 1920s. Organizing for the Nonpartisan League in South Dakota, 1910s. Red Scare during and after the First World War. Relationship between the Socialist Party and the Nonpartisan League. Relationship between the Socialist Party and the Communist Party. Drought conference for farmers at Pierre, South Dakota, 1933. Stories of organizing among farmers for the CP and the united Farmers League, 1930s. Reasons for the popularity of the CP in South Dakota. Descriptions of penny auctions, particularly one at Milbank, South Dakota. Assessment of CP activity in western Minnesota, 1930s. North Dakota senatorial campaign, 1944. Impressions of A.C. Townley. Drought conference in Sioux Falls, 1935. Impressions of Julius and Knute Walstad. South Dakota Farm Holiday Association. Reasons for the decline of the CP in South Dakota. Shift of radical activity from the united Farmers League into the National Farmers Union, 1940s. Congressional campaigns in Minnesota's ninth district, 1948 and 1958. COMMENTS ON INTERVIEW: Mr. Sharp's memory was amazingly good at ninety-five years of age. His stories are rich in detail and insight. Most of the material deals with South Dakota. There is another interview with Mr. Sharp in the MHS collection. It was done some ten years earlier, by Steven Trimble and Thomas O'Connell. Mr. Sharp speaks indistinctly, stammering a lot and repeating himself. He also chuckles constantly, making it difficult to understand his words. In addition, there is airplane noise in the background. All in all, these tapes are very hard to understand. Considering the problems with the tapes, the transcription is truly excellent. Many names remain uncertain, however, because they were so hard to hear, and because of the very grassroots nature of the work Mr. Sharp did. The transcript has been heavily edited for readability, striking many repetitions and incomplete sentences.
3 hours sound cassette
31 pages transcript
Content Category: sound recordings
Content Category: text
02:27:50 running time
Interviewee: Sharp, Clarence
Interviewer: Ross, Carl
Made in: Minneapolis, Hennepin County, Minnesota, United States
Creation: 12/09/1987 - 12/16/1987 (Interviews conducted 12/9/1987 and 12/16/1987.)
|Holding Type||Oral History - Interview|
OH 30 (Library Call Number)
AV1990.228.38 (Accession Number)
MHS Library Catalog
Oral History - Project, MHS Collection, project: 'Twentieth Century Radicalism in Minnesota Oral History Project'