Ishmael Flory was a civil rights activist, trade union organizer, and Communist Party (CPUSA) leader in Illinois. Flory was born on July 4, 1907, the youngest of nine children to Samuel and Leola Hancock Flory in Lake Charles, Louisiana. In 1918 the Flory family moved to Los Angeles, California, where he attended and graduated from Jefferson High School in 1926. After high school, Flory entered the University of California, Los Angeles (UCLA) in 1927 but left college to work in real estate and as a Pullman porter. He joined the Dining Car Employees Union when he became a dining-car chef.
After working on the railroad for a few years, Flory return to school and received his undergraduate degree from the University of California, Berkeley in 1933. Flory then enrolled in a master’s degree program in sociology at Fisk University in Nashville, Tennessee. While a graduate student at Fisk, he became a political activist when he joined in a protest of the lynching of Cordie Creek, an African American teenager who was killed by a white mob near Columbia, Tennessee, after being falsely accused of raping a white woman. He was expelled from Fisk University for participating in the lynching protest and then quickly organized other challenges to Jim Crow practices in the Nashville area. In 1939, Flory moved to Chicago and resumed his labor union activities. He served as the head of the Joint Council of Dining Car Employees and later became an organizer for the Mine, Steel, Mill and Smelter Workers Union, which later merged with the United Steelworkers of America.
Flory worked closely with Paul Robeson, W.E.B. DuBois, and other black civil rights leaders during the 1940s and 1950s. He dedicated himself to addressing the struggles faced by working class black Americans. Because of his commitment, Flory was elected president of the National Negro Congress, an umbrella organization of dozens of civil rights groups. In 1960 he founded the African American Heritage Association, a group of black history and culture advocates. He was also a founding member of the National Alliance to End Racist and Political Repression (NAARPR), an organization that grew out of the campaign he led to free activist Angela Davis when she was charged with murder.
Flory was also member of the Communist Party since the 1930s and was at one time the head of the Communist Party USA (CPUSA) in Illinois. He ran for governor of Illinois on the CPUSA ticket in 1972 and 1976 and for U.S. Senate in 1974 and 1984.
Ishmael was married to Cathern Davis Flory sometime in the 1920s or 1930s. The couple had two daughters, Patricia Flory Stocks and Eloise Flory Shaw.
Ishmael Flory died on February 19, 2004, at the age of ninety-six in Chicago, Illinois.