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Published: Friday, 4/15/2005

Toledo resident infiltrated Communist Party for FBI

William G. Cummings, a factory worker whose testimony as an FBI informant helped convict 11 American communist leaders in a 1949 sedition trial, died April 6 in the Lake Park nursing home, Sylvania, of apparent heart failure. He was 93.

Born to a family of sharecroppers in South Carolina, Mr. Cummings was 19 when he moved to Toledo following a cousin's visit to the city and decided he wanted to leave the South for good, Twila Ferguson, his granddaughter, said.

"It was segregation - having to go through the back door and not be able to look white people in the eye," she said. "He got tired of black people being lynched."

He found work and soon convinced his parents and siblings to settle near him in the Ironwood area of East Toledo, where he lived for many years.

Mr. Cummings figured prominently in the news beginning in the late 1940s when he testified at a trial in New York of communists charged with conspiracy to teach and advocate the forcible overthrow of the government.

At that time, he had been an FBI informant who infiltrated the American Communist Party for six years. As part of his work for the FBI, he recruited friends and relatives to the Communist Party to gain credibility within the organization and obtain information.

His notoriety didn't sit well with some, including his own children, Ms. Ferguson said. A resolution in 1949 by former Toledo Mayor Lloyd E. Roulet to praise Mr. Cummings for his work was denounced by former Toledo Councilman J.B. Simmons, Jr., who called him "a stooge."

Mr. Cummings later testified in 1955 at a trial in Cleveland against alleged leaders of the Communist Party in Ohio, and acknowledged that over the years he had drawn income from both the FBI and the Communist Party.

Ms. Ferguson said her grandfather managed to weather the controversy about himself well.

Although he held strong anti-communist views, his granddaughter said, he never explained to her why he became an informant. It is believed he ended his efforts for the FBI in the late 1950s.

"I think the government didn't need him anymore," she said. "[The civil rights movement] was coming on. That is my personal take on it."

Over the years, Mr. Cummings worked at Electric Auto-Lite, the Ohio Mill, and Doehler Jarvis, retiring in 1977. At one time, he had been active in the affairs of the Electric Auto-Lite unit of Local 12 of the United Auto Workers.

Mr. Cummings was thrilled at the fall of communism in the Soviet Union in 1991, she said. "He was happy."

By then, he was legally blind as a result of an auto accident in the late 1980s. He loved the Ironwood neighborhood and the small group of black families who were among its residents, a close-knit community where neighbors kept a close eye on one another.

"He loved the east side," Ms. Ferguson said. "That was home." In his final years, he passed the time listening to Cleveland Indians baseball games and tuning in to country music radio.

He was preceded in death by his wife, Annie Kate Cummings.

Surviving are his sons, R.C., Lemuel, Joseph, and Grover; 17 grandchildren; 22 great-grandchildren, and five great-great-grandchildren.

Services will be at noon today in the Dale-Riggs Funeral Chapel, with a wake an hour before the service.



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