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  • Writer's pictureMeredith Busch

Dorothy Ray Healey - Social Justice Advocate

In my academic research, working towards my Ph.D., I found an interesting woman that you probably haven't heard of before. I love uncovering incredible female influencers. In an effort to increase the availability of female role models throughout history, this is the first of many profiles, spotlights, on those influential women. Dorothy Ray Healey is certainly one of those women. She was a lifelong leftist, a Southern California local, the head of the Southern California branch of the Communist Party of the United States (CPUSA), and she fought for workers' and immigrants' rights with tireless energy, putting the greater good and the well-being of others above herself.

An Inherited Desire for Social Justice

Born in 1914 to two Jewish-Hungarian immigrants, Dorothy was a red-diaper baby. Her mother was an active socialist and later communist. When she identified Dorothy's interest in social justice, she watered that seed.

The Beginning of the Rest of Her Life

At 14, Dorothy worked at a peach processing plant and joined the Young Communists League. She was arrested at a demonstration at the age of 15, and that fierce conviction stuck with her through other arrests and imprisonments.

As a result of her work with the Young Communists League, she became employed as a full-time union organizer before graduating high school. She talks about her earliest platform, the soapbox, and about learning how to capture and hold the attention of a transient audience.

Dorothy on the Rise

She joined the Communist Party at age 18 and proceeded to rise in the ranks, working with the CIO and advocating for collective bargaining and unions. Healey was involved in defending the Mexican youth charged for the Sleepy Lagoon Murder, and led the berry pickers' strike in El Monte, California uniting the Mexican and Japanese communities of workers. After WWII, the Party reorganized, and Healey attended the national convention. At that convention, the Central Committee appointed her as the organizational secretary of the Southern California district of the CPUSA.

Woman Under Fire

In the 1950s' Red Scare, the height of McCarthyism, Healey was harassed, arrested, jailed and tried during the original Smith Act trials. Eventually, the Supreme Court found the Smith Act to be unconstitutional. She continued to fight for the underdogs for the rest of her career, making speeches against the Vietnam War, advocating for gay rights, and fighting for civil rights. Those fights didn't end, but her relationship with the CPUSA did. In 1973, she listened to a speech decrying the acts of Stalin, outlining his reign of terror. She was shocked, her world turned upside down. She broke ties with the Party, but continued to forge a path for herself as an unrelenting Marxist as advocate for the oppressed.

An Undying Legacy

In those years after she left the Party, Healey hosted a radio show on Marxism on Los Angeles station KPFK. She also led the Democratic Socialists of America. In 1983, she moved to Washington, D.C. where she continued to host radio shows and traveled to give speaches at locations all over the country. To this day, her Los Angeles home is listed in A People's Guide to Los Angeles because of the immensely powerful position she held and the changes she effected for Los Angeles and California workers.

Regardless of political leanings, women who demonstrated undying courage of conviction should be admired. Healey was a passionate woman, devoted to her work, and meticulous in taking action to achieve her ideals.

To get to know Dorothy better, to see and hear her, check out this video!

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