When a life was as adventurous and politically active as Harry Haywood’s, it’s difficult to find a starting point, a pivotal moment that encapsulates his remarkable journey.

He was a devout, relentless revolutionary who in radical circles is best remembered for his unwavering commitment to Black Nationalism and as a progenitor of the “Black Belt thesis,” positing that African-Americans mainly living in the South comprised a separate nation.

In the late ’60s and early ’70s, Detroit was a hotbed of revolt, particularly as fomented by radicalized Black workers, and this may have been one factor that drew Haywood to the city, though he had been there several times. In association with scholar and teacher Ernest Allen, who I had brought to Wayne State University, a relationship was forged with Haywood and the time we spent with him was educational and enlightening.

Yes, Haywood was a well-traveled revolutionary, but he was also a raconteur, a storyteller with an endless fount of memorable tales to relate.

The youngest of three sons, he was born Haywood Hall Jr. Feb. 4, 1889, in Omaha, Neb. His parents were former slaves who had migrated to the city from Missouri and West Tennessee. Like many African-Americans, they moved to Omaha seeking jobs in the railroad and meatpacking industry.

The Hall family left Omaha in 1913 after his father was attacked by white racists. After two years in Minneapolis they moved to Chicago. His formal education ended in Minneapolis when, as the only Black in the school, he entered a classroom to hear the students singing a racist song in Black dialect. By the time he was a teenager he began working as a porter in railcars which gave him his first glimpse of Chicago. Harry had a variety of jobs in Chicago, including one as a bus boy when World War I erupted.

In his autobiography “Black Bolshevik,” now a member of the 8th Regiment of the Illinois National Guard unit and attached to the 93rd Division, he recounted a scene from the last major battle in Europe in the Argonne Forest in northeastern France. “Bullets whizzed over our heads,” he said. “All of us scrambled to get into the communication trench which opened on the valley. Second Lieutenant Binga Desmond, our platoon commander [and University of Chicago great sprint star] fell from the embankment on top of me. Fortunately, he was not hit. But even with his 180 pounds on my back, I am sure I made that ten or fifteen yards to the communication trench, crawling on my hands and knees, as fast as he could have sprinted the distance.”

As Harry notes in his book, he was fighting in the wrong war. That point came home to him dramatically in 1919, the so-called “Red Summer,” when race riots broke out across the country, including Chicago where he quickly got involved.

Two years later, influenced by his older brother, Otto, he was a member of the African Blood Brotherhood, a clandestine group of Black activists affiliated with the Communist Party. Within a few years, around 1925 or 1926, Harry was a member and began his long odyssey in the Party that would carry him all over the world.

Soon he was off to Moscow infused with communist doctrine and a new nom de guerre, Harry Haywood. In Moscow he studied at the Communist University of the Toilers of the East and subsequently at the International Lenin School. It was in this context that he met such formidable leaders as Ho Chi Minh, who may have encouraged him to begin thinking about Black Nationalism and the idea of the “Black Belt theory.”

For three years he remained in Moscow as a delegate to the Communist International or Comintern, all the while nurturing the concept in which he would be identified with forever. In fact, it was during this period that he refined his ideas and began to argue for it often in conflict with other African-Americans in the Party, including his brother.

But in the ’30s, revolutionary theory gave way to practice, and Harry was once more off to combat in Spain as a member of the Abraham Lincoln Brigade, formed to fight against the fascism of military dictator Francisco Franco. Harry managed to survive several harrowing battles, one of which must have reminded him of his near-fatal encounters during World War I in France. He was commanded to duck when a bullet narrowly missed him and killed a comrade. “I left Spain bitter and frustrated,” he confessed in his autobiography. “I was disappointed that I had not fully anticipated nor was I able to overcome the difficulties encountered there. It was for me a personal crisis, but nothing compared to what I faced returning home.”

Perhaps the most disconcerting development was the Communist Party’s declining interest in supporting African-American self-determination and Harry’s signature Black Belt theory. Even so, he remained loyal to the Party, playing a crucial role in several civil and human rights issues surrounding Angelo Herndon and the Scottsboro Boys. By the late ’40s he had published a number of articles that further explained his analysis of self-determination and its contrast to reformism. In 1948 he published “Negro Liberation” which contained the gist of his political and economic ideas.

With the Party’s shift away from the “Negro Question” and with revisionism in command, Harry and his cohorts were left adrift and he, along with his third wife, Gwendolyn Midlo Hall, founded the Provisional Organizing Committee for a Communist Party in 1958. It was a move that he somewhat regretted and not a wise one which led to his and others’ expulsion from the Party.

His days with the Party were over but not his activism, and his appearances in Detroit where he consorted and worked with members of the League of Revolutionary Black Workers were indicative of his ongoing political commitment. He continued to write and confer with the younger militants in Detroit, New York City and Chicago, and after lengthy days and nights with Ernest Allen he, for the most part, completed his autobiography that was finalized and published by the October League.

Harry died Jan. 4, 1985. He was 86 and is buried in Arlington National Cemetery.