"We nonviolently oppose the reliance on unilateral military actions rather than cooperative diplomacy."


December 18, 2008

Abe Osheroff, a lifelong activist in the struggle for peace and justice, died on April 6, 2008, at his Seattle home. To honor his memory and further the struggle in which he believed, friends and admirers recently established the Abe Osheroff and Gunnel Clark Endowed Human Rights Fund for Students at the University of Washington. United for Peace of Pierce County (WA) is pleased to donate $100 to this project, and urges supporters to consider making additional individual contributions, which are tax-deductible.  Donations may be made online here (search for "Osheroff").

The fund's founding document states that "The purpose of this endowment shall be to provide support for undergraduate and graduate students at the University of Washington to participate in activist projects in the United States or abroad that advance human rights through direct engagement." More on the fund below.

Who was Abe Osheroff, and what did he do during his lifetime to inspire such a fund?

Abe Osheroff was born on October 24, 1915, in Brooklyn, New York. He was a son of Jewish immigrants, and fought injustice from an early age. During the Great Depression, police arrested him for moving the furniture of evicted families back into their houses. He was sixteen years old. A policeman who belonged to the American Nazi Bund beat up Osheroff while he was incarcerated and called him a "goddamn Jew." While still a teenager, he joined the Communist Party, and by the age of 20 was organizing miners' unions and raising aid for striking workers.

Osheroff was a graduate of an extraordinary school, City College of New York. A scholar recently wrote that CCNY "would become a legend for the number of eminent figures it graduated during the thirties, including two Nobel laureates (the physicist Robert Hofstadter and the biologist Arthur Kornberg); the future head of the RAND Corporation, Albert Wohlstetter; the actor Zero Mostel; and numerous writers and intellectuals -- Nathan Glazer, Irving Howe, Irving Kristol, Bernard Malamud, and [Alfred] Kazin -- many of whom would look back fondly on their years there as some of the most valuable and instructive of their lives" (Richard M. Cook, Alfred Kazin: A Biography [New Haven & London: Yale University Press, 2007], 23-24). Osheroff was one of these. It was in the heated discussions that thrived in what Irving Howe later called "the thick brown darkness" of the famous basement alcoves of the college administrative building that Abe Osheroff's steely commitment to the struggle for social justice and human rights was tempered.

Osheroff was a few months short of his twenty-first birthday when, in July 1936, civil war broke out in Spain. Gen. Francisco Franco, aided by the Catholic Church and later by Hitler and Mussolini, began a military campaign to overthrow the democratically elected Republican government. Osheroff fought in the Spanish Civil War in the Abraham Lincoln Brigade and was wounded in the battle of Belchite in 1937.

In World War II, Abe Osheroff enlisted and fought Nazism in Europe. He later taught at the Jefferson School of Social Science in New York, and was persecuted for his beliefs by the House Committee on Un-American Activities. In 1956, Osheroff quit the Communist Party, finally disillusioned by Stalin's purges.

In the late 1950s and 1960s, Osheroff devoted himself to the civil rights movement, participating in Holmes County, Mississippi, one of the poorest counties in the United States. There he faced down Klan violence in Freedom Summer, the voter-registration project that made Mississippi "a historic crucible of American democracy," as Taylor Branch said in Pillar of Fire: America in the King Years, 1963-1965. He was also active in the movement against the Vietnam War.

In 1974, Osheroff made an award-winning documentary film called "Dreams and Nightmares" on President Richard M. Nixon's sale of military bases to Franco's dictatorship. In the 1980s, when others of his generation were retiring, he organized a building brigade to help the Sandinistas in Nicaragua, then under attack from U.S.-backed Contras. In the 1990s he worked against the Gulf War, and in 2003 against the Iraq war. One week before his death at the age of 92, Osheroff was still active: as one of eleven surviving members of the Abraham Lincoln Brigade, he went to San Francisco for the unveiling of U.S.'s first monument devoted to the unit, located near the Vaillancourt Fountain on the Embarcadero, not far from San Francisco's Ferry Building.

Robert Jensen of the University of Texas at Austin has called Osheroff a philosopher as well as a "master strategist, energetic organizer, and courageous fighter." "As we face the difficult times ahead -- dealing with the mounting consequences of human arrogance and greed -- more than ever we will need to find in ourselves the strength Osheroff had to never stop fighting and never stop loving," Jensen wrote. "We will need to harness, as Osheroff always did, both our hearts and our minds to the tasks ahead. We will need to remember to celebrate, as Osheroff always celebrated, both the joy and the sorrow of being human."



MORE ON THE FUND: "[I]n collaboration with the holder of the Helen H. Jackson Endowed Chair in Human Rights," the fund will help cover "expenses incurred by student recipients for materials, books, travel, and other related expenses needed to develop and actualize the projects’ goals of implementing solutions. It is also the donor’s intent that awards from this endowment go to support students’ active participation in human rights projects that promote social change through direct action. Specifically, students will partake in projects through direct engagement in areas that are consistent with the legacy of Abe Osheroff, a lifetime human rights activist, including but not limited to economic justice, environmental justice, labor rights, women’s rights, and or minority/indigenous rights. High priority will be given to projects that focus on the adverse consequences of the policies or actions of our government, or our institutions and corporations, on disadvantaged people in our country or abroad." The fund's assets will be managed by the University of Washington. The Dean of the College of Arts and Sciences or his or her designee, in consultation with the holder of the Helen H. Jackson Endowed Chair in Human Rights and based on students' proposals, will select the recipient who receives the annual award. Should hopes for a Center or Institute for Human Rights at the University of Washington be realized, the director of that institute will be charged with selecting the recipient. — The full text of the endowment can be read at www.AbeOsheroff.org. — Donations to the Abe Osheroff and Gunnel Clark Endowed Human Rights Fund for Students should be made payable to "University of Washington Foundation/Abe Osheroff Endowment," and can be mailed to Gunnel Clark, 2100 N. 128th Street, Seattle WA 98133.


"We nonviolently oppose the reliance on unilateral military actions rather than cooperative diplomacy."