One Radical Who Did It All

By Zinn, Howard | The Progressive, April 2000 | Go to article overview

One Radical Who Did It All


Zinn, Howard, The Progressive


As the twentieth century came to an end last December, an extraordinary man, whose life spanned the century, died at the age of ninety-seven. His name was Sender Garlin.

I first met Sender when he was only eighty-seven years old. It was the fall of 1989, and I had traveled to Boulder to give a talk at the University of Colorado. He was one of the chief organizers of my stay, but I didn't know this longtime radical journalist and pamphleteer, and so I was not prepared for the excitement of my encounter with him.

We met for lunch at the faculty dining room. I assumed this would take an hour, but it lasted for two hours and could have gone on for six, so animated was the conversation, so high the energy, so full of questions was I, so full of the history of this century was Sender Garlin. He kept saying: "It's my turn to question you. Equal time, you know." But I knew we were not equals in what we had to say.

I am a historian, and Sender had lived through some of the most exciting historical moments of our time. He had covered the Moscow purge trials of the 1930s for three leftwing newspapers, the only Western correspondent to be present at all those bizarre proceedings, in which Stalin methodically disposed of his former fellow revolutionaries. In this country, he reported on a different kind of lynching, the trial of the "Scottsboro Boys," nine black youths falsely accused of rape in Alabama during the Depression years and sentenced to death.

He grew up in a working class Howard Zinn, author of "A People's History of the United States," is a columnist for The Progressive. environment in Vermont and upstate New York, his father a baker who, according to Sender, was "an equal opportunity employer," enlisting the services "of my mother and my three older brothers."

Reading The Appeal to Reason and the writings of Upton Sinclair, Sender at thirteen or fourteen considered himself a socialist.

Covering the bitter labor struggles of the twenties and thirties (the textile strike in Gastonia, North Carolina, the turbulent strikes in California as editor of the Western Worker), he was deeply affected. Sender Garlin could never be the detached professional journalist, above the battle, any more than John Reed covering the Paterson mill strike of 1913, or Theodore Dreiser writing about the mine struggles in Kentucky. …

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