Magazine article The Nation

Brothers Foner

Magazine article The Nation

Brothers Foner

Article excerpt

Brothers Foner

On December 5 the National Emergency Civil Liberties Committee presented its Tom Paine Award, given to outstanding champions of civil liberties, to four brothers whose very name evokes the progressive movements of the past half-century. The name is Foner, and the brothers--Philip, Jack, Moe and Henry--are a remarkable quartet, whose life stories form a kind of collective biography of what a generation gave to the labor movement, to New York City and to America.

The daily work of political opposition and the lifelong chronicling of the labor and civil rights movements place the brothers Foner in the company of I.F. Stone and William O. Douglas, previous recipients of the Paine prize. The Foners have persisted--through repression, Depression, hot, cold and cultural wars--in the service of a shared social commitment. Their story stands in contrast to the values of the Reagan era.

The Foners were the sons of Russian immigrants: Mary, who never learned to write English, and her husband, Abraham, a seltzer man. Like so many other sons and daughters of New York City's poor of their generation, they were graduated from public colleges and were radicalized by the Depression and the Spanish Civil War--and, say the Foners, The Nation. Three were victims of the inquisitors of the New York State Legislature, who purged them from positions at City College in 1940 and 1941, in an early rehearsal for the depredations of the 1950s. …

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