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Cedric Belfrage Papers

Call Number



1922-2003, inclusive
; 1945-1985, bulk


Belfrage, Mary Bernick (Role: Donor)
Belfrage, Cedric, 1904-1990.


16.5 Linear Feet
in 31 boxes.

Language of Materials

Materials are in English


Cedric Belfrage, socialist, author, journalist, translator, and co-founder of the National Guardian, was born in London in 1904. In 1927 Belfrage went to Hollywood, where he was hired by the New York Sun and Film Weekly as a correspondent. He became politically active, joining the Hollywood Anti-Nazi League and co-editing a left literary magazine, The Clipper. In 1948, he wrote for and helped found the National Guardian (later Guardian) to which he would remain affiliated until the 1960's. Belfrage was summoned in 1953 to appear before the House Un-American Activities Committee (HUAC), and in 1955, he was deported back to his native England. Belfrage then travelled to Cuba in 1961, and in 1962, travelled throughout South America before finally settling in Cuernavaca, Mexico. In 1973, Belfrage returned to the U.S. for the first time since 1955, on a publicity tour for a new book. Belfrage continued to write extensively until his last years. He died in Mexico on June 21, 1990. The papers of Cedric Belfrage span the years 1922-1990, with the bulk of the material from 1945-1985. The collection consists mainly of Belfrage's writings both published and unpublished. The writings include articles, travel notes, translations, short fiction and non-fiction essays, book manuscripts and research files, and related correspondence. The collection also contains correspondence (mostly incoming), documentation of Belfrage's political activities, biographical materials and photographs.

Historical/Biographical Note

Cedric Belfrage, socialist, author, journalist, translator, and co-founder of the National Guardian, was born in London on November 8, 1904. He came from a conservative middle-class family and his father was a doctor. During his childhood and adolescence he attended public school, and at the age of twenty-one went to college at Cambridge University. His early career as a film critic began there, where he published his first article in Kinematograph Weekly on May 8, 1924.

In 1926 Belfrage travelled to New York where film criticism was a more profitable occupation. There he wrote for magazines and newspapers such as Picturegoer, Bioscope, The New York Herald Tribune, The Daily News, and Commercial Art. Belfrage's characteristic ironic humor is evident even in these early writings. In 1927 his career as a film critic propelled him further west, to Hollywood. He traveled by train and arrived with $23.00. He was hired by the New York Sun and Film Weekly (based in London) as a Hollywood correspondent. In 1928 he was married to Virginia Bradford, a Hollywood starlet, whom he divorced about two years later.

Belfrage returned to London in 1930 as Sam Goldwyn's press agent. Once there, Lord Beaverbrook of the Sunday Express (later Daily Express) soon hired him and in 1932 sent him back to Hollywood as the paper's correspondent. The Express sent him on another film criticism journey in 1934, this time around the world. This voyage provided Belfrage with the material for his first book, Away From It All (published in 1937 by Gollancz, Simon and Schuster, and Literary Guild, and in 1940 by Penguin). It was also during this voyage that Belfrage became politicized. Not only did he witness the poverty brought about by imperialism, but also "the advent of Hitlerism and the lack of alarm in the British ruling circles." (Guardian obituary, Jul 4, 1990)

When Gollancz accepted Away From It All in 1936, Belfrage resigned from the Express to settle back in Hollywood, with his new wife Molly Castle, and their daughter Sally. At this point he became politically active for the first time, joining the Hollywood Anti-Nazi League and the Spanish Republican Committee, and co-editing a left literary magazine, The Clipper. He also collaborated with Theodore Dreiser on a book. Away From It All proved successful, and Belfrage soon began work on his second book, The Promised Land, dispelling various myths about Hollywood. In 1937, Belfrage met Claude Williams, a Presbyterian preacher from Arkansas, with whom he became fast friends and would have an on-going collaborative relationship. Williams was on a fund raising tour for his People's Institute of Applied Religion, a Christian Marxist organization in solidarity with southern sharecroppers and the Civil Rights movement. Belfrage wrote a biography of Williams that was published as Let My People Go in 1937 by Gollancz (and as South of God in 1938 by Left Book Club, and as A Faith To Free The People in 1942 by Modern Age, Dryden Press and Book Find Club).

Belfrage's political engagement, which seems at this time to have centered on the broad based anti-fascist effort, led him to join the Communist Party in 1937. The fact the he withdrew his membership a few months later, and that he had only just begun to read Marx and Lenin, suggests that he joined because of the C.P.'s visible, accessible and organized protest against fascism, rather than because of any allegiance to the C.P. itself. After this break, Belfrage would maintain a friendly but critical relationship with the Communist Party.

In 1941, the Belfrage family, now including two year old Nicholas, moved to New York where Cedric served with British Intelligence. Also in 1941, he had an autobiography published, They All Hold Swords (Modern Age). He continued his work with British Intelligence until 1943, and in 1944 became a Press Control Officer in London for the Supreme Headquarters Allied Expeditional Forces (SHAEF) Psychological Warfare Division (PWD). He was sent in this capacity to France and then to Germany where his mission was to de-Nazify the German press by helping found the first anti-fascist newspaper in Germany after World War II, the Frankfurt Rundschau. At this time Belfrage met Jim Aronson who was working on the same project. The two would go on to found the National Guardian (along with Jack McManus) and become life-long best friends.

Belfrage returned to the U.S. in 1945, where he settled with his family in Croton-on-Hudson, New York. He received a Guggenheim fellowship to write Seeds of Destruction, his chronicle of de-Nazifying the German press, but the Cold War made its publication impossible until 1954 (Cameron & Kahn). At this time, he also worked on his novel about the U.S. funeral industry, Abide With Me (Sloane Associates, N.Y., 1948, Secker & Warburg, London, 1948, translated in Germany and Czechoslovakia). In 1947 his third child, Anne, was born.

In the summer of 1948, Belfrage travelled to southeast Missouri to visit Claude Williams. He spent several months there and was introduced to Claude's friends, Owen Whitfield (Whit), a black sharecropper preacher, and Thad Snow, a white cotton planter and Whit's neighbor. From them Belfrage learned about the Sharecropper's Strike of 1939, which was organized by Whit and Thad. He began writing a book on this event and these two men, but never completed it (though he took it up again in 1982), due to another project that came up: founding a newspaper.

The fall of 1948 marks the birth of The National Guardian, a progressive newsweekly. Its purpose was, as Belfrage put it in his address to the 1980 Meiklejohn Institute Symposium on HUAC, "to oppose head-on both the witch-hunts and the Cold War of which they were the domestic auxiliary," but on a strictly non-partisan basis. The paper also aimed to unify the left, as Belfrage explained in a 1986 Guardian interview: "There's apparently something about Marxism which makes its devotees fight each other like cats and dogs. And this was an attempt to stop that." (published in the Fall 1988 40th Anniversary Journal). This goal of unity typifies Belfrage's political stand, which was critical but always aiming to strengthen ties among leftist groups rather than emphasize differences.

The National Guardian drew its readership largely from the Progressive Party. The first issue featured an article by progressive Henry Wallace, whom the National Guardian endorsed as a presidential candidate on the independent ballot that year. The paper also found support in the American Labor Party. Congressman Vito Marcantonio was especially enthusiastic about the paper. It reported on such issues and events as the trial and execution of Ethel and Julius Rosenberg, charged with 'atomic espionage' for the Soviet Union, the Korean War (the paper opposed it), the indictment of reporter Anna Louise Strong (National Guardian foreign correspondent) in the Soviet Union as a U.S. spy, the Trenton Six, the murder of Emmet Till, and the growth of the Civil Rights movement (it was the first American newspaper to have a Black History section). It supported national liberation struggles around the world: Africa in the 1950's, Southeast Asia in the 1960's and early 1970's, and Latin America in the 1980's. It also supported the Student Non-Violent Coordinating Committee (in which Sally Belfrage was extremely active and about which she wrote her first book, Freedom Summer). The National Guardian was among the first papers to oppose the Vietnam War with on-scene reports from foreign correspondent Wilfred Burchett. Another cause taken up by the National Guardian was the defense of political prisoners such as Alger Hiss, Corliss Lamont, the Hollywood Ten, and Ann and Carl Braden, many of whom Belfrage knew personally and had an on-going correspondence with.

Due to such reportage the National Guardian was constantly harassed by the government, culminating in 1953 when Belfrage was summoned to appear before the House Un-American Activities Committee (HUAC) and Senator Joe McCarthy. Belfrage invoked the fifth amendment at his hearing in response to charges of being a Communist Party member. The next day he was arrested by immigration officials at his desk in the National Guardian office. Belfrage alone among the paper's staff was vulnerable to arrest due to his status as an alien; he had never obtained U.S. citizenship. He was taken to Ellis Island where he spent one month in jail.

But Belfrage's troubles with the government were not over and he was again arrested in 1955. This time he spent three months at the West Street Federal Penitentiary before he was deported (along with his third wife, Jo) back to his native England. There he became the editor-in-exile of the National Guardian. As a reporter, he travelled to India, East and West Europe, Israel, Russia (just after Nikita Krushchev's 1956 "Secret Speech" on Stalin), China, where in 1957 Belfrage was "the only person...reporting for an American publication" (1986 Guardian interview), and Ghana, where he renewed his friendship with W.E.B. DuBois. He also helped organize a British committee to obtain a U.S. passport for African-American singer Paul Robeson. In addition to reporting, Belfrage wrote a book at this time about his deportation experience, The Frightened Giant (Secker & Warburg, London, 1956, Guardian Books, N.Y., 1957).

In 1961, Belfrage travelled to Cuba and in 1962 throughout South America. He used his experience in Cuba to write a historical novel, My Master Columbus (Secker & Warburg, 1961, Doubleday, N.Y., 1962) and his South American experiences were published in 1963 as The Man at the Door With The Gun (Monthly Review Press). In the same year, Belfrage settled in Cuernavaca, Mexico with his fourth and last wife, Mary. There they ran a left-wing guest house and offered refuge to South American exiles.

In 1967 Belfrage resigned from the National Guardian (which then shortened its name to the Guardian), as did Aronson. The new Guardian staff wanted the paper to become an ideological leader of the New Left. Neither Belfrage nor Aronson could endorse this move, as they had deliberately founded the Guardian on a non-sectarian basis and as a unifying force on the left. As Belfrage wrote in a letter dated April 11, 1966 to staff member Jack Smith, "What seems beyond a doubt is that our non-sectarian radicalism is the main basis of the support we receive, the main thing NG has that other Left publications don't have...I would describe the paper as an organ and defender of, and newspaper of record for, all groups and individuals who are fighting the political and social status quo..." Belfrage's relations with the Guardian remained hostile for a time, though by the 1980's he was corresponding with the staff and writing book reviews and articles.

While 1967 marks the end of one phase in Belfrage's career, it also marks the beginning of a new one. He made his debut as a Spanish/English translator with Eduardo Galeano's Guatemala Occupied Country (Monthly Review Press). He achieved great success in this field and was extremely talented. From about 1970 to 1973 Belfrage's main project was researching and writing his book on the McCarthy era, The American Inquisition (Bobbs Merrill, 1973, Siglo XXI, Mexico, Thunder' Mouth Press, 1989). In 1973, Belfrage returned to the U.S. for the first time since 1955 (after a lengthy campaign to obtain a visa) on a publicity tour for his new book. He lectured at universities and to left organizations throughout the country.

In 1981 Belfrage suffered a stroke which partially paralyzed his left hand. He continued to write extensively until his last years. He translated Eduardo Galeano's trilogy on Latin America, Memory of Fire (Pantheon, 1985), for which he received much acclaim. He also began writing (but never finished) a memoir, and a book on his time in Hollywood, focusing on the social and cultural side rather than the political, and returned to his book on Thad and Whit. He also began biographies on the Mexican Revolutionary, Emiliano Zapata, and the Spanish priest Las Casas who befriended the natives at the time Spain conquered Mexico. Belfrage's sense of humor remained sharp during his last years as is evident in various short writings such as an Encyclopedia of Useless Information, and a novel about a nudist colony. In addition to writing, he was active with Mary in the aid of South American refugees, and together they continued to welcome friends and comrades to their home. He died in Mexico on June 21, 1990.

BOOKS BY CEDRIC BELFRAGE'Away From It All.' Gollancz, London, 1937; Simon & Schuster, 1937; Literary Guild, 1937 Penguin (Britain) ppbk. 1940.'Promised Land.' Gollancz, London, 1937; Left Book Club, London, 1937; Republished by Garland, N.Y., Classics of Film Literature series, 1983.'Let My People Go.' Gollancz, London, 1937.'South of God.' Left Book Club, 1938.'A Faith to Free the People.' Modern Age, N.Y., 1942; Dryden Press, N.Y., 1944; Book Find Club, 1944; (translated into Chinese and German) by the People's Institute of Applied Religion.'They All Hold Swords.' Modern Age, N.Y., 1941'Abide With Me.' Sloane Associates, N.Y., 1948; Secker & Warburg, London, 1948; (translated in Germany and Czechoslovakia)'Seeds of Destruction.' Cameron & Kahn, N.Y., 1954'The Frightened Giant.' Secker & Warburg, London, 1956'My Master Columbus.' Secker & Warburg, 1961; Doubleday, N.Y., 1962; Editiones Contemporaneos, Mexico, (in Spanish). Also translated in Germany and Czechoslovakia.'The Man at the Door With the Gun.' Monthly Review, N.Y., 1963'The American Inquisition.' Bobbs-Merrill, 1973; Siglo XXI, Mexico (in Spanish) Thunder's Mouth Press, 1989.'Something to Guard.' Columbia University Press, 1978

Translations (all for Monthly Review Press, N.Y. & London, unless indicated)Galeano: Guatemala Occupied Country, 1967.Silen: We the Puerto Rican People, 1971.Galeano: Open Veins of Latin America, 1973.Galeano: Workers' Struggle in Puerto Rico, 1976.Fraginals: The Sugarmill, 1976.Selser: Sandino, 1981.Galeano: Memory of Fire (translated 1983) Pantheon, 1985.


The collection is arranged into six series, three of which are arranged into subseries:

Series I: Biographical Materials, 1922-1990

Series II: Correspondence, 1937-1989

Subseries II:A: Family Correspondence, 1953-1987

Subseries II:B: General Correspondence - Individuals, 1938-1988

Subseries II:C: General Correspondence - Countries, 1937-1989

Series III: Political Activities, 1944-1989

Subseries III:A: German Press Control, 1944-1946

Subseries III:B: Deportation, 1944-1989

Subseries III:C: National Guardian, 1948-1987

Series IV: Writings, 1927-1990

Subseries IV:A: Travel Notes, 1956-1977

Subseries IV:B: Articles, 1946-1987

Subseries IV:C: Translations, 1966-1989

Subseries IV:D: Published Writings, 1937-1990

Subseries IV:E: Unpublished Writings, 1941-1980

Subseries IV:F: Published Writings: American Inquisition, 1945-1989

Subseries IV:G: Published Writings: American Inquisition - Research, 1945-1978

Subseries IV:H: American Inquisition - Leo Sheiner and Miami Red Cases, 1946-1961

Subseries IV:I: Memoirs, 1974-1981

Subseries IV:J: Unpublished Writings - Hollywood Book, 1927-1984

Subseries IV:K: Unpublished Writings - Owen Whitfield Book, 1947-1985

Subseries IV:L: ADDENDUM to Published Writings: American Inquisitionand My Master Columbus, 1959-1990

Series V: Addendum, 1923-2003

Series VI: Photographs, 1923-1999

Scope and Content Note

The papers of Cedric Belfrage span the years 1922-1990, with the bulk of the material from 1945-1985. The collection consists mainly of Belfrage's writings both published and unpublished. The writings include articles, travel notes, translations, short fiction and non-fiction essays, book manuscripts and research files, and related correspondence. However, the collection does not fully reflect Belfrage's career as an author since there is little information on many of his published books. The collection also contains correspondence (mostly incoming), documentation of Belfrage's political activities, and biographical materials.

The collection provides substantial information about the early part of Belfrage's life as a Hollywood film critic (1920's-1930's), but very little about his subsequent activity in Germany as a press control officer for the U.S. army (1944-1945), though he maintains correspondence with Emil Carlebach, Buchenwald survivor and Communist, whom he met in Germany and about whom he wrote an article. His trip to Southeast Missouri in 1948 is very well documented in the form of writing and research for a book he later began (but never published) about two people he met there. They were the organizers of the Sharecroppers Strike of 1939, Owen Whitfield, a black sharecropper, and Thad Snow, a white farmer. Belfrage's next major project, the founding of the National Guardian in the fall of 1948, is well documented. Information on his involvement with this paper, and detailed correspondence with the co-founder and Belfrage's best friend, Jim Aronson, spans the rest of his life.

The collection also provides documentation of his deportation case and time in jail, mostly in the form of articles about him and correspondence. The next period in his life, as editor-in-exile for the National Guardian, during which he travelled extensively as a journalist, is less well covered. The main forms of documentation are articles by him, travel notes, and correspondence. The collection covers more thoroughly the final period of Belfrage's life, from the time he settles in Mexico in 1973 to his death in 1990. This time span is best chronicled by correspondence, and book and translation projects. Belfrage's evolving political position is well documented, especially regarding the rise of fascism and anti-Semitism in the 1930's, World War II in the 1940's, McCarthyism in the 1950's, Cuba in the 1960's, and Latin American countries in general in the 1970's and 1980's. His ambivalent relationship to the Communist Party and the Soviet Union is an on-going theme both in his writings and correspondence. The collection provides a detailed record of Belfrage's relations with friends and family, in the form of correspondence, though it is almost all incoming.


Conditions Governing Access

Materials are open without restrictions.

Conditions Governing Use

Copyright (and related rights to publicity and privacy) to materials in this collection created by Cedric Belfrage was not transferred to New York University. Permission to use materials must be secured from the copyright holder.

Preferred Citation

Identification of item, date; Cedric Belfrage Papers; TAM 143; box number; folder number; Tamiment Library/Robert F. Wagner Labor Archives, New York University.

Location of Materials

Boxes 1-29 are stored offsite and advance notice is required for use. Please contact at least two business days prior to research visit. Boxes 30 and 31 are stored at Bobst Library and can be accessed without advance notice.

Immediate Source of Acquisition

The Cedric Belfrage Papers were a gift of Mary Belfrage in 1991. Seven VHS tapes donated by an unknown donor in 2008 were discovered in the repository in 2014. The accession numbers associated with these gifts are 1991.003, 1991.005, NPA.1993.017, NPA.2008.027, and 2014.125.

Audiovisual Access Policies and Procedures

Audiovisual materials have not been preserved and may not be available to researchers. Materials not yet digitized will need to have access copies made before they can be used. To request an access copy, or if you are unsure if an item has been digitized, please contact with the collection name, collection number, and a description of the item(s) requested. A staff member will respond to you with further information.

Separated Materials

Four reels of recordings of House UnAmerican Activities Committee hearings (circa 1952-1955), and five cassettes of interviews for the unpublished book on Owen Whitfield (1982) have been removed and are located in Tamiment's non-print collection. A videotape interview (circa 1976) of Belfrage regarding his Hollywood years has been transferred to the Avery Fisher Center and separately cataloged.

Collection processed by

Amy Meselson in 1993. Edited by Maggie Schreiner in February 2014 for compliance with DACS and Tamiment Required Elements for Archival Description and to reflect the incorporation of nonprint materials. Box 31 added in May 2014.

About this Guide

This finding aid was produced using ArchivesSpace on 2024-02-06 14:01:44 -0500.
Using Describing Archives: A Content Standard
Language: Finding aid is written in English.

Processing Information

Photographs separated from this collection during processing were established as a separate collection, the Cedric Belfrage Photographs (PHOTOS 057). In 2014, the photograph collection was reincorporated into the Cedric Belfrage Papers (TAM 143). Also in 2014, a box of VHS tapes found in the repository was added to the collection as Box 31.

In August 2017, one item was retroactively accessioned into the collection. This item was prepared to be moved to offsite art storage in September 2017.

Revisions to this Guide

August 2017: Updated by Megan O'Shea to incorporate artwork being sent to offsite art storage in September 2017

Edition of this Guide

This version was derived from Belfrage, Cedric Guide.wpd


Tamiment Library and Robert F. Wagner Labor Archives
Tamiment Library and Robert F. Wagner Labor Archives
Elmer Holmes Bobst Library
70 Washington Square South
2nd Floor
New York, NY 10012