John “Johnny” Gates’ parents gave him the name of Solomon Regenstreif. The parents were ethnic Jewish immigrants coming to America in the early 1900s from Poland.
During John’s early days in college he pursued radical political activism. He left college early so that he could attempt to rally other college students to his way of thinking. Gates first worked with unemployed workers in Ohio, eventually running unsuccessfully for the city council of Youngstown, Ohio.
When the Spanish Civil War began, Gates joined and fought in Spain. Although only 24 years old he rose to the rank of battalion political commissar. He fought with the Abraham Lincoln Brigade which endorsed the communist ideology.
Returning to the United States from Spain, Gates became the head of the Young Communist League.
In the summer of 1948, Gates was one of twelve individuals found guilty of being dedicated to the Marxist-Leninist principles for the overthrowing of the United States government by force. The judge was following the guidelines of the Smith Act that had been implemented eight years earlier for the purpose of fighting potential infiltration of America by secret Nazi and Communist saboteurs. Gates was sentenced to five years in prison.
Following his release from prison in 1955, Gates was appointed as editor of the Communist party’s newspaper, The Daily Worker. The newspaper soon found significant losses in circulation due to a general disenchantment with Communism, by both workers and intellectuals. Also, considerable pressure was applied by McCarthyism. On December 22, 1957, the Party suspended publications of its paper.
Gates resigned from the Communist Party in January 1958, claiming that it had “ceased to be an effective force for democracy, peace and socialism in the United States.”
Gates wrote his memoirs, The Story of an American Communist. A fellow communist by the name of Earl Browder wrote the book’s introduction.
Following publication of his memoirs, Gates went to work as a senior research assistant for the International Ladies Garment Workers Union. In this capacity he assisted members with workers’ compensation, unemployment, and Social Security claims. He retired from the union in 1987.
Johnny Gates died on May 23, 1992 in Miami Beach, Florida at the age of 78.